SEATTLE — It didn’t matter where Adley Rutschman was — a game, a dinner out with his family — the same routine would happen. One moment, his grandpa, Ad Rutschman, was by his side.
“You might not even see him,” Adley recalled, “because everyone wants a little piece of his attention.”
As Adley grew up, introducing himself with his first and last names meant the inevitable lightbulb going off in a stranger’s mind: This was Ad’s grandson. Adley’s stardom has grown since those days. He won a College World Series at Oregon State, became the first overall selection in the 2019 Major League Baseball draft and is now the cornerstone of an Orioles rebuild that has reached fruition in 2023.
But to many, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, he’ll always be Ad’s grandson.
The life and legacy of the 91-year-old Ad — or Coach Rutschman, as hundreds of his former players still call him no matter how many years later — is defined by those who’ve come next.
To understand Adley Rutschman, the best avenue is to work in reverse, through his dad, Randy (who threw to his son at the Home Run Derby in Seattle), and then to Ad Rutschman, the only coach to win national titles in both college football and college baseball. To understand Ad, talk to those who have played for or coached alongside him at tiny, NCAA Division III Linfield University in McMinnville, Oregon.
At every turn, there’s an overwhelming verdict.
“He elevated everyone around him. It just came naturally,” said Jay Locey, who coached football at Linfield under Coach Rutschman and later brought Ad back to the staff. “Whatever levels I’m at right now would be due to his influence.”
“When I was running companies, I would think back, ‘OK, how would Coach Rutschman handle this?’” said Steve Pickering, who played offensive tackle at Linfield in the early 1970s before embarking on a career that’s led him to become the vice president and director of the Commerce Bank of Arizona.
“Outside of my parents, there’s nobody I’ve learned more from about life and football than Coach Rutschman,” said Chris Casey, who coached at Linfield University for nine years after finishing his playing career for the Wildcats.
Coach Rutschman’s influence is locally known and revered, and his coaching tree extends far beyond the small campus about 45 miles southwest of Portland. As Adley’s star rises around baseball, his grandfather is still the constellation that lights the way.
It is, for those who know and studied under Ad, no surprise that Adley had an immediate impact on the Orioles’ culture. Since the catcher’s promotion, Baltimore hasn’t been swept, and now it has the second-best record in baseball.
Rutschman’s arrival has buoyed the Orioles, particularly with his process-oriented approach and team-first mindset — traits that descend directly from his grandpa.
“It’s incredible the impact that I’ve heard he’s had on people, and that I know he’s had on me,” Adley Rutschman said. “Like, it’s amazing, and I think when it comes down to it, that’s his goal for himself. The same thing my dad has, is wanting to have an impact on people.”
The dirty work
Members of the Linfield University football coaching staff lined up at the far end of the dirt patch, about two yards apart from each other and with buckets spread evenly between them, then dropped to their knees in the dust that represented the remains of the Wildcats’ football field.
Together, with Coach Rutschman in the middle, they crawled over the dirt on their hands and knees — for 100-plus yards — picking out any rocks along the way.
Coach Rutschman didn’t become a legend at Linfield by accident. He didn’t earn his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1998 by chance — although, given his humility, he might say so — nor did he orchestrate a streak of winning seasons for the Wildcats that has reached 66 years without a very clear approach.
Before the field at Linfield could be seeded for a new turf surface, Ad Rutschman wanted perfection. He and his staff cleared all the stones so the incoming grass surface would be as close to flawless as possible.
“Just doing the dirty work along with everybody else,” Locey said. “You wanted to perform your absolute best for the guy, whether you were a player or you were a coach.”
Crawling on hands and knees to prepare the football field was an extreme, but Coach Rutschman found everyday opportunities to make performing at a high level the norm. He walked around the field with a metal clipboard and, when Pickering botched a play, he made the offense run the play again.
Pickering, in a three-point stance along the offensive line, remembers Coach Rutschman approaching him after the fourth or fifth time.
“He takes his clipboard, and he just whacks my helmet — not hard, not anything more than just, ‘Hey, wake up,’” Pickering recalled. “The message was: ‘Come on, you’re better than this. Do it right.’ That was the way Coach tried to teach everybody, and he impressed upon us that the way we practice is how we play. If you practice crappy, you’re going to play crappy. That’s why practice was so important to him.”
The lessons learned during those practices have shaped the way former players operate their own programs. His son, Randy, then a ball boy on the sidelines, learned those lessons at home with his siblings and later when he played baseball for his dad at Linfield.
It wasn’t always active teaching from Coach Rutschman; instead, his day-to-day routines influenced a wave of coaches, just as growing up with Ad shaped Randy’s parenting style and each casual conversation with his grandson left Adley with an underlying lesson.
“I’ve heard he was a fiery dude,” Adley Rutschman said. “I never got to see that. I just get to see the wise, levelheaded grandpa that I now have, which is awesome. I think that would’ve been cool to see.”
Others who’ve seen the many sides to Coach Rutschman have borrowed his humor, his perfectionism and his caring — a trio that created an iconic coach.
At George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon, Casey has been the head football coach since 2013. Casey — whose younger brother Pat was the head baseball coach at Oregon State during Adley’s tenure there — has borrowed bits and pieces of what Coach Rutschman taught him to build his own program.
He’s either “taken verbatim or refined” numerous phrases, practices and beliefs from Coach Rutschman.
As Locey moved into a role coaching running backs, tights ends and special teams for the USFL’s New Jersey Generals last year, he prepared to scheme for kickoff returns by sitting down with Coach Rutschman. He learned the strategy behind Linfield’s kickoff returns, then brought it with him to the Generals — and Locey’s team finished second in return yards that season.
“He still studies the game,” Locey said, “and is still very much involved.”
The road home
Over the course of 91 years and counting, the alternative paths are nearly endless.
They could’ve brought Coach Rutschman to Oregon State on a full football scholarship, or led him to the Detroit Lions, Detroit Tigers or Toronto Argonauts after graduating from Linfield — there was interest from all three, he says, for football or baseball — but the path Ad Rutschman chose led him right back home.
After taking an aptitude test at Hillsboro High School in Oregon, a young Ad Rutschman in the 1940s realized he wanted a career that let him to be outdoors. There was wildlife management but, after discovering he’d need to take chemistry, teaching and coaching seemed to be the way forward.
And because all of his high school coaches at the time coached multiple sports, Rutschman wanted to improve his chances by playing multiple sports in college. Oregon State, with that full ride, would’ve only let Ad join the baseball team for game days, so that he could focus more fully on football — a situation Ad felt wouldn’t have worked out well.
Years later, Ad Rutschman saw his dream come true through his grandson.
Adley played baseball and football during his freshman year at Oregon State. The grueling schedule led Adley to focus solely on baseball in the proceeding years, but for that one season, Adley was the kickoff specialist and the catcher, and his grandpa watched every game thinking of his own love for each sport.
“That was pretty special to see him do that,” Ad Rutschman said. “I don’t know when he found time to eat. I really was hoping that he’d continue to do that for four years, but I understand why he made the decision to concentrate on baseball.”
In Ad’s case, he wound up at Linfield, a school only 30 miles south of Hillsboro that allowed him to play football, basketball and baseball. He finished college with 12 varsity letters — plus a degree — and with his wife, Joan, and firstborn child, Rutschman returned to Hillsboro to teach and, soon after, became the head coach of the baseball and football teams.
Soon followed three state titles in baseball and one in football. And by 1968 Rutschman was back at Linfield, where he won a national title in baseball and three championships in football. Coach Rutschman left the baseball team in 1983 because he was “just worn out,” he said.
Linfield University was — and to many still is — Rutschman University. Joan helped with the athletics program, and Ad was the football coach, baseball coach, athletic director and the teacher of three classes per semester.
“My days were basically 15-hour days, seven days a week,” Rutschman said. “My wife and I hadn’t taken a vacation for 24 years, and I thought, this is time to start cutting back.”
But even now Rutschman hasn’t fully left. He never will. As much as anything else, coaching is his lifeblood. It’s what led him to Linfield, what helped him spurn professional interest and what keeps a 91-year-old young.
“I’ve been a pretty fortunate person,” Coach Rutschman said. “Everything has really turned out pretty doggone good for me, and there’s no guarantees that things would’ve turned out this good if I’d have taken a different fork in the road.”
‘The Linfield Way’
One year, when Rutschman won a Topps award for what he achieved as a baseball coach, the company sent him a letter with ample blank space for an answer and one straightforward question: What was his philosophy for winning?
Rutschman sure won a lot.
But he’d never spent any time thinking of how to define what goes into a win and, as he wracked his brain, his answer took up only a fraction of the page.
“I believe my No. 1 job is building people, and my No. 2 job is building a program,” Ad Rutschman wrote. “And if I do a good job of those things, to some degree winning takes care of itself.”
That was some 60 years ago, yet Rutschman has never changed his stance. And that belief has rubbed off on his son, grandson and the next crop of coaches who all learned from Coach Rutschman — and it’s why Locey called Ad with an offer in 1996.
Locey had taken over the head football coaching position at Linfield, five years after Rutschman retired and opted to help his eldest son coach McMinnville High School. Locey wanted Coach Rutschman as part of his staff, wanted all of his players to be around a coach who had already impacted his own life.
And Rutschman said no — at least to a full-time gig. He was tired, after all. But once Locey extended Rutschman an opportunity just to coach the kickoff return unit, Coach was back. He poured himself into the job — and does so to this day, because every subsequent coach has kept him on staff — even if it was a smaller role than he’d ever had.
“Having him around our players, having him around our staff, it perpetuated — I’ll say the Way of Doing Things, and you can call it the Linfield Way,” Locey said.
In the same way Coach Rutschman led his coaching staff on hands and knees through the dirt searching for rocks, the 10 minutes he has during practice for kickoff return drills are a pursuit of excellence.
“Most special teams I gave about five minutes, maybe about 10 to 15 minutes a week,” Locey said. “Rutsch basically got 20, 25 minutes, because he was going to be so detailed. And whether I gave him 10 minutes, he was gonna take 15.”
Rutschman is around because he’s a legend, but his insights are important too. He continues to watch tape and scheme how to get the most out of what could be only one kickoff return per game, because of how dominant Linfield can be any given week.
“I have a belief that, if you don’t use it, you lose it,” Coach Rutschman said. “Well, this I think helps keep my mind occupied and I get a chance to game plan and watch film and stuff like that to stay occupied.”
The only problem?
A firm rule for Rutschman during his time as a head coach was that all of his staff needed to run from drill to drill. For one, it set an example for his players to follow. The practice also allowed them to maximize their time on the field.
But Rutschman can’t run anymore.
“I try to get a head start,” Rutschman said, “but they’re going to beat me to wherever I want to go.”
Just under the shade of an overhang at T-Mobile Park on Sunday, Coach Rutschman wore a jersey again.
It was his grandson’s, an American League All-Star edition, earned last month when Adley Rutschman reached a new height of stardom in MLB. He enthralled during the Home Run Derby, hitting bombs from both sides of the plate as his father pitched. He then walked down the red carpet with his mother, Carol, and sister, Josie.
Ad Rutschman watched those events unfold from his home in McMinnville. But, as the Orioles sealed a series win against the Seattle Mariners last weekend, Coach Rutschman was in the stands — and he was as popular as his grandson.
He held court in the 100-level shaded seats as friends from his 91 years made their way to visit. It was just as Adley remembered it as a child, the steady stream of people finding Coach to catch up. When he was younger, those distractions might have rankled Adley ever so slightly, leaving him wanting his grandpa’s attention all to himself.
“But now I think it’s really cool,” Adley said, because he understands what all these other people feel when they talk to Coach Rutschman — he feels it, too.
It was Ad who taught Adley goal setting and his unwavering process-oriented mindset. It was Ad who taught Adley, without meaning to, what it meant to be humble even as his star rises and brightens.
It was always Ad.
“You get Adley,” Casey said, “that came from Coach, to Randy, to Adley.”