Remembering Dick Tomey

Summer 2019
A photograph of Dick Tomey, speaking into a microphone

The University of Arizona Wildcat family celebrates the life of Dick Tomey, who passed away May 10, 2019 at the age of 80 after a courageous fight with cancer.

The winningest coach in Arizona history, Tomey spent 14 seasons leading the Wildcats’ football program. Tomey went 95-64-4 as Arizona’s head coach, directing the Wildcats to nine winning seasons, seven bowl games and four bowl victories. He earned Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors in 1992, the first coach in school history to win the award.

Tomey was the mastermind of some of Arizona’s best teams. He led the Wildcats to a 10-2 mark in 1993, including a dominant 29-0 win over Miami (Florida) in the Fiesta Bowl that vaulted Arizona to No. 10 in the final AP Top 25 Poll of the season.

Tomey’s “Desert Swarm” defenses in the mid-1990s were some of the very best in the nation and landed the Wildcats on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s College Football Preview edition in 1994.

In 1998, Tomey and the Wildcats went 12-1, establishing a school record for wins in a season that still stands today. Arizona finished its ’98 campaign with a 23-20 win over Nebraska to finish No. 4 in the final AP poll of the season.

Under his tutelage, Tomey’s players received 20 All-America honors, 43 All-Conference honors and four Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year recognitions. Three of his former players — Tedy Bruschi, Rob Waldrop and Chuck Cecil — went on to be elected into the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame. Waldrop also won the 1993 Outland Trophy as the nation’s top interior lineman.

Waldrop was hardly the only former player of Tomey’s to earn distinguished national awards. In 1990, Darryll Lewis won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back, and Steve McLaughlin earned the Lou Groza Award in 1994 as the country’s top place-kicker. Additionally, in 1998 Chris McAlister won the Mosi Tatupu Award as the nation’s best special teams player.

Tomey was born in 1938 in Bloomington, Indiana, and played college football at DePauw University in Indiana. He went 183-145-7 in his career as a head coach, which also included stops at Hawaii and San Jose State. He is a member of the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame and the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame.


“Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Tomey family as Wildcats from across the world are mourning the loss of such an iconic coach. Dick Tomey was the ultimate embodiment of Arizona Football and the University of Arizona as a husband, father, coach and mentor. He impacted countless lives during his outstanding coaching career, and his legacy at the University of Arizona is everlasting. Arizona Athletics is forever grateful for Coach Tomey’s leadership, dedication and grace as one of our greatest Wildcats.”

— Vice President and Director of Arizona Athletics Dave Heeke 

“I have been fortunate to know Coach Tomey as a colleague in our business for over 15 years. However, it wasn’t until I arrived at the University of Arizona that I got the opportunity to know Coach Tomey on a more personal level. There are only two things that could beat his passion for the game of football: his passion for his family and passion for impacting the lives of his players and coaches on and off the field.
“Not only was Coach’s affection for his players and coaches truly sincere, but his affection for Arizona’s current players and coaches was truly heartfelt. He cared deeply about the lives and successes of everyone involved in our program, both past and present. Coach never stopped doing his part to help a fellow Wildcat. He embodies what it means to be a ‘Wildcat for Life.’
“Our entire program is saddened by this loss, but we are also grateful to have been impacted by Coach Tomey. We will continue to do our part to represent his legacy well. His wife Nanci and the entire Tomey family continue to be in our thoughts and prayers.” 

— Arizona Football Head Coach Kevin Sumlin

“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Coach Tomey. He was a great man, friend, coach, mentor and someone I truly loved. He represented everything that is right about coaching and competing. He was such a caring individual who made a difference to so many young men and coaches in this country at all levels. He will be dearly missed, but I will always cherish my relationship and last visit on Easter with Coach Tomey. My deepest condolences go out to Nanci and the entire Tomey family.” 

— Arizona Softball Head Coach Mike Candrea

“I was filled with great sadness when I heard about Dick’s passing. I was a young head coach when I first arrived at Arizona. Dick Tomey and Lute Olson were larger-than-life figures to me. Dick was an unassuming and self-deprecating person. I remember him playing pick-up basketball games in McKale with anyone passing by during the lunch hour. There was a lot to admire about Dick Tomey: how calm he always was during football games, how much his players loved playing for him, how he loved being a part of the Tucson community. However, what stood out to me most was how he treated people. He was gracious and kind to everyone. He was in a class by himself. He was a shining example of what we all aspire to be. Bear Down, Dick!” 

— Arizona Volleyball Head Coach Dave Rubio

“I am very saddened by the passing of Coach Dick Tomey. I go so far back with him, from my very first days here at Arizona. He was the gentlemen who gave me an opportunity as assistant track and field coach to work hands on with football players in speed development. The most important thing Coach Tomey taught me as a young coach was how to be passionate about what we do and be a good man at the same time. He was a great man in the community, a great football leader and a great father. I wish his family and everyone who loved him the best.” 

— Arizona Director of Track and Field Fred Harvey

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