Frank Windegger was ready to head back to St. Louis the first day he walked into TCU's football locker room in 1953.
Seeing teammates, kids his own age, taking out their teeth because of football injuries gave him pause.
"I remember it was about $14 bus fare to get back to St. Louis," Windegger said. "Luckily, I didn't have $14."
Lucky for TCU, too.
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Windegger, 78, spent 45 years as a TCU athlete, coach and athletic director. He retired in 1998 after serving the last 23 years as the Frogs' athletic director. But the honors have continued to pile up.
The National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, who are meeting this week at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, will present its highest honor to Windegger at a luncheon at noon Wednesday.
Windegger is the 46th recipient of the James J. Corbett Memorial Award, which the NACDA annually bestows on an active member of the organization who "through the years has most typified Corbett's devotion to intercollegiate athletics and worked unceasingly for its betterment."
Corbett, LSU's former longtime AD, was the NACDA's first president in 1965.
"In my mind, he's the reason TCU is where it is today," said Glenn Monroe, who played baseball for Windegger from 1968-71 and will introduce him at Wednesday's ceremony. "He kept it consistent and at a high level even when we didn't have much money and we were struggling. He brought a lot of class to that job on a very small budget and represented the school great."
Windegger was the first recruit Abe Martin signed in 1953 out of McKinley High School in St. Louis. He played football and baseball for the Frogs before graduating in 1957. After two years in the Army, Windegger was hired as assistant ticket manager and assistant baseball coach in 1959. In 1962 he was selected the Frogs' baseball coach and ticket manager, and added athletic business manager to his duties in 1965. He became the youngest coach to win the Southwest Conference title when the Frogs took the title in 1963 when he was 28. Fifty years later he's the first retired person to earn the Corbett Award.
He oversaw Frogs athletics during an era of massive change in college athletics while serving as AD from 1975 to 1998, an astoundingly long tenure in the business. Three of the coaches he hired are still at TCU: men's golf coach Bill Montigel (1979), swimming and diving coach Richard Sybesma (1979) and women's golf coach Angie Larkin (1994).
"That's just unheard of in today's age," TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte said. "He was here through thick and thin and did a wonderful job for this institution. He was one of the pillars and stalwarts of our industry. He was a pioneer and he was there when college athletics evolved. It's a great honor for him and his family and speaks volumes for his body of work at TCU."
Windegger said he is humbled and honored by the award because it's coming from colleagues, peers and mentors, many he has known for decades. He's also grateful that his career was completely dedicated to TCU. He was approached about taking jobs at several schools over the years, including SMU and Arizona State, but chose to stay at TCU.
"I was very happy here," Windegger said. "I think Fort Worth is the greatest town in the United States."
Windegger's move from baseball coach to AD in 1975 was unusual at the time because former football coaches were typically picked as ADs.
"He was the first guy to bring a business perspective to the job," said Monroe, who is CEO of Meridian Bank Texas. "It proved to be a very good decision for the school. I think he proved his worth over the years. Real steady, not the flashy big name that you'll see with some of the high-profile football coaches that get that job. He's very personable and he's sincere, which makes a difference. He's not a politician. He got a lot of work done with what you could say was a limited staff compared to today."
It was a devastating blow for Windegger when the Southwest Conference folded and TCU was left searching for a league in 1994. When he announced his retirement a few years later, legendary Arkansas coach and athletics director Frank Broyles echoed the respect held by many administrators.
"I have always considered him a visionary, ahead of his time," Broyles told the Star-Telegram in 1997. "He took a small school with specific priorities in terms of athletic funds and academics, and he has built an all-sports program that is very impressive. Most people would not have been able to succeed as he has. When things got rough, he has held his head up. And he has held the heads of the alumni up. He obviously has a deep reverence for that university."
Windegger's love for TCU has remained as strong as ever as his ties to the school, including as a devoted fan, stretches toward 60 years.
"I'd do it all over again," he said. "I'm just happy to be here. The good Lord has been good to me."