Joe Lyles, Legendary W&L Coach, Dies at 83
Joseph F. Lyles, who coached and taught at Washington and Lee University for 50 years, died Tuesday, Nov. 13, in Roanoke. He was 83.
“Joe enjoyed a long and colorful career throughout half a century at Washington and Lee. Not only did he coach soccer and baseball for almost 20 seasons, but he also taught every required class in our physical education curriculum,” said W&L President Kenneth P. Ruscio. “Alumni across a wide range of class years will remember Joe fondly and no doubt can recite more than one of his Lylesisms. He was one of the legends.”
Lyles was born on Oct. 28, 1929, in St. Louis, Mo., and grew up there. He attended St. Mary’s High School, where he is a member of its Hall of Fame. He studied at St. Louis University from 1947 to 1949 and received his degrees in physical education from Springfield College—a B.S. (1958) and an M.S. (1959, with honors). He served in the Army in 1952.
He left St. Louis University in 1949 to play not one but two professional sports: baseball with the American League’s St. Louis Browns organization (1949–1954) and basketball with the St. Louis Bombers (1949–1953). He also had stints with the Washington Generals and the Philadelphia Spas, both basketball organizations. On the diamond, he played in the outfield and as a pitcher; on the court, he played as a guard and a forward. In 1952, he traveled around the world to 44 countries as a member of the United States All-Stars, playing against the Harlem Globetrotters.
Lyles arrived at W&L in 1959. He served as the head baseball coach from 1959 to 1978 and head soccer coach from 1959 to 1976. He also was the assistant basketball coach from 1959 to 1969. He compiled a 108-229-3 record in baseball and a 100-85-17 record in soccer. W&L named him Coach of the Year for baseball in 1972, and for soccer in 1974.
He later directed club sports at W&L and headed the football chain crew through the 2011 season. Long after leaving his post as head baseball coach, he assisted the baseball program, serving as the team’s fall ball coach while the head coach served as the football team’s offensive coordinator. Lyles retired in 2009 as an associate professor of physical education. Even in retirement, he attended as many W&L athletic events as possible.
Members of the W&L community relished his sense of humor and what they called his Lylesisms, such as “I want the left-handers over here, right-handers over there, and the rest of you come with me,” and “This year, all our home games are going to be here.” One of his best stories concerned his first game pitching for the St. Louis Browns, when he hit Stan Musial, the legendary St. Louis Cardinal.
“Joe Lyles was one of a kind, and I mean that in the most positive, respectful way possible,” said Jan Hathorn, W&L director of athletics. “He loved W&L and W&L athletics, and he gave his heart to the men he coached and the students he taught. His support of our physical education program, as well as the club sports program—in particular, the Squash Club—was second to none. He was very proud to have served W&L for 50 years, and his loyalty to the Blue and White was unswerving. I think I speak for many in our department when I say that we are grateful for the opportunity to have known and worked beside Joe during his remarkable tenure. We are going to miss him enormously.”
“Joe Lyles enriched the fabric of life at Washington and Lee,” said Mike Walsh, the longtime former athletics director at W&L, who worked with Lyles for 17 years. “Whether it be for a Lylesism, from a conversation at a W&L athletic contest or from being coached or taught by Joe—he will be remembered as an unforgettable person. He dearly loved this University, its students and our athletes. He was our most devoted fan and always saw the good in young men and women. Oh, how he loved the Generals. He will be missed and fondly spoken of for generations to come.”
“In his 50 years of service, he crossed the paths of thousands of individuals; in all his dealings, his warmth and friendliness have always stood out,” read the official citation upon his retirement from W&L. “This is a big man with a big heart.”
Beyond the campus, Lyles served as the chair of the Penn and South Region, the conference that preceded the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC). He also worked on National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) committees for baseball, including as national chair of the newly formed Division III for five years after its formation, national chair of the Division III All-American selection committee and a member of the Divisions I, II and III National Baseball Rules committee. He served on NCAA committees for Divisions II and III for soccer.
In the off seasons, he represented baseball and softball equipment in Virginia for Jo Paul Industries; directed programs and entertainment at hotels in Atlantic City, N.J.; served as a consultant and recreation specialist for the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity; trained personnel for the Springfield College Job Corps and Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA); and directed summer camps in Virginia and New Hampshire.
His wife, Patricia Nolan Lyles, who was equally popular with the W&L community, died in 2002. He was also preceded in death by two brothers, Claude E. Lyles Jr. and Gordon T. Lyles, and a nephew, Thomas Lyles.
He is survived by his nephews, Claude E. Lyles III and John Lyles; his nieces, Valerie Drane Bellman, Patricia Wanko, Suzanne Frisella, Theresa Kettenbrink, Janean Hensley, Joan Chenault and Diane Boliaux; and a sister-in-law, Carol Lyles Dustmann.
The family will receive friends from 3 to 7 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 18, at Harrison Funeral Home & Crematory, Lexington. A mass of Christian burial will be conducted at 2 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 19, at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Lexington, with burial to follow in Stonewall Jackson Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Washington and Lee University, Development Office, 204 W. Washington St., Lexington, VA 24450.
Associate Director of Communications and Public Affairs