Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz: A Super link to Shocker football

With the passing of each year, there are fewer reminders of Wichita State football. Almost 24 have gone by since the program was dropped and outside of the occasional barking voice that pleads for a resurrection, all is quiet.

Then along comes a Super Bowl and you discover that one of the coaches — New Orleans Saints running backs coach Bret Ingalls — has ties to Shocker football.

Ingalls was a fullback for Wichita State in 1980 and 1981, when he played for Willie Jeffries. He was a tough, 6-foot, 206-pound guy who did a lot of the blocking for quarterback Prince McJunkins, the Shockers' star player from that era.

Ingalls got into coaching shortly after an injury cut short his WSU career and has lived the nomadic life so common in his profession, with stops at Idaho, San Diego State, Louisville, Northern Iowa, back to Idaho, Indiana State, Miami (Ohio), Northwestern and now with the Saints, where he is finishing his first season in the NFL.

So much time has passed since his time as a Shocker, but the first thing out of his mouth when I talked to him this week was this: "When are they going to bring football back?''

Ingalls still has ties to Wichita; his wife, Diana McCune Ingalls, went to Southeast and they met when Bret was playing at WSU.

"We get back there at least once a year to see her family,'' Ingalls said. "And when I'm there I always drive by the old (Cessna Stadium). It's just unfortunate they don't have football anymore.''

Ingalls is wrapped up in football, helping the Saints in the biggest game in franchise history. He's still pinching himself. Last season, he was the offensive line coach and running game coordinator at Northwestern, but was lured to the NFL by Saints coach Sean Payton. The two worked together in 1989 at San Diego State, where Ingalls tutored Marshall Faulk.

Ingalls is too modest to admit the impact he appears to have had with the Saints' running game, but it's obvious in the numbers.

Last season, New Orleans ranked 28th in the NFL with 99.6 rushing yards per game. The Saints were also 28th in 2007. This season, they're sixth, having rushed for an average of 131.6 yards.

Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell and Reggie Bush don't have startling individual rushing numbers. Collectively, though, they're the reason New Orleans has an advantage over Indianapolis in the ground game.

It's an advantage Ingalls hopes is a difference maker.

"They didn't run it very well a year ago and I think the reason it's improved is that our offensive line is together again, we didn't have any changes there,'' said Ingalls, an old offensive line coach. "I don't believe any of our guys can carry it 30 times a game, but these guys are great at getting 10 to 12 carries each.''

Thomas has gained 793 yards and scored six touchdowns. Bell has 654 yards and five touchdowns. Bush, most dangerous as a return man and a pass catcher, has rushed for 390 yards.

Combine that with quarterback Drew Brees and his stable of receivers and it's no wonder Indianapolis is crossing its fingers that defensive end Dwight Freeney will be ready to go Sunday.

"People in this league don't want to be one-dimensional,'' Ingalls said.

Still, he admits it's not easy to establish the run and that most teams are pass happy.

That changed in New Orleans this season. Brees still gets his yards, but the Saints' offense is more dangerous because of the run threat.

"Our running backs caught over 100 balls this year,'' Ingalls said. "We have a lot of dimensions.''

Ingalls figured he was a college lifer until he got the call from Payton last winter. He jumped at the chance to coach in the NFL, capping a rise that started when he was a student assistant coaching defensive backs at Idaho in 1982.

"I grew up in Seattle and wanted to get closer to home after I left Wichita State,'' Ingalls said. "I didn't plan on coaching, but I ended up at Idaho because I knew one of their coaches. Dennis Erickson was the head coach and we won a bunch of games and he kept adding a couple of thousand dollars or so to my salary. Then I went to San Diego State and by then I didn't know what else to do but coach.''

Ingalls said that being in New Orleans for this Super Bowl run — it's the first for the Saints — has been life changing because of the plight of the city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The Saints are New Orleans' team. The fan base is huge, with a season-ticket waiting list of around 40,000.

"The population of the city dropped dramatically and we're still recovering,'' Ingalls said. "But these people jumped aboard with this team when it came back to the Superdome in 2006. It's truly amazing how excited the people of New Orleans are, how enthusiastic they are, how belligerent they are.

"A lot of these players, including Drew Brees, have been here through all of this. It's a bigger deal to those guys because this is for a city. It's exciting and I feel really fortunate to just be here.''

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