Detached tendon doesn’t stop California cowboy from steer wrestling title; sellout crowds fill stands for 85th anniversary St. Paul, Ore. (July 4, 2021) – Luke […]
“Do what’s right, do the best you can, and treat other people the way you want to be treated.”
John Luthi is retiring from 41 years of coaching the same way he retired from 23 years of rodeo competition – still doing a good job but feeling like God is telling me it was time to turn the page.
Born and raised in Gridley, Kansas, one of John’s first experiences on a horse was when he was six. “My folks didn’t rodeo, but my dad had a horse he used on our ranch and he put me on his back to ride him home. The horse started trotting and the stirrups just bounced around, and pretty soon he was galloping. I figured the only way out was to jump and I landed on my head. I didn’t want to get on a horse again.”
His sister begged for a horse as we got older, so they both got one. “She got a high spirited one, and I got a real gentle one. It made her try that much harder and me want to. Next thing you know we went to youth rodeos and got the bug. I played basketball and football, and ran track in high school, but after two years, track got in the way of rodeo.
He competed through junior rodeos, National Little Britches, high school rodeo, and then in college rodeo. His dad was a diversified farmer, so he figured his kids should be diversified in rodeo. The overhead was about the same to travel, if in one or multiple events and they had a better chance of winning if they entered every event, so they did. His dad entered them in a Little Britches rodeo and told him he was entered in the bareback riding. “I’d never been in the bareback before.” His dad said that you will have by the time we get back. When he went to college, he rodeoed in amateur associations the first summer, them got his permit and card in PRCA. In the PRCA “I rode bareback and bulls because that’s what I won the most in. I bulldogged for a while, but it was difficult to work both ends of the arena. When we were in high school, we didn’t have the chance to practice much – in the summer, we were either working or at a rodeo.” He rodeoed in the Prairie Circuit from 1977 – 1990, continuing for several years after becoming a coach. He was a five-time qualifier in the bareback and three-time qualifier in the bull riding, winning 15 all-around saddles. “When I got married, I wanted to slow down and focus on coaching and put all my energy into one area.
He got his first coaching job just one year out of college. While pursuing his master’s degree, his roommate talked him into going to the last college rodeo and his old rodeo coach from Ft. Scott was there. “He asked me what I was going to do when I got out of school and if I was interested in a job as a Rodeo Coach. A month later, I had my first opportunity to coach,” said John. “It was a challenge; I was just a year out of college, but I hung in there and was committed to do a good job. I won the American Royal my first year of coaching and Bruce Ford called up and told me to quit coaching and go rodeo.” He told Bruce that he was not going to quit in the middle of the year.
His rodeo team consisted of 19 members that first year and 16 years later, it had grown to 70. “There were times I’d finish out the year and think I’d be done, but I’d get a little raise and try it again. 41 years later, it has been a blessing. It’s been good to work young people and help them with their opportunities in rodeo and in life.”
When John started coaching, he wanted his team members to be self-motivated instead of incentive motivated. “Helping Lyle Sankey at his rodeo schools was a start of developing a format of goal setting.” The real help came from a Positive Thinking Rally he attended in Kansas City, MO, for $15. Motivational speakers like Art Linkletter, Colin Powell, and Zig Ziglar among others filled John with great ideas to share. “Zig wrote a book called See You at the Top. He talked about things that he learned from his parents and he’d make it fun – but he got his point across. Zig developed this “I Can” course that was mainly taught in high schools. The course was full of life lessons. John got the idea to take the course back to his Dean of Instruction at Fort Scott Community College. He sold his Dean of Instruction on starting a class which was called The Psychology of a Healthy Personality.
John started teaching this class – it was basically about building self- image, goal setting, and dealing with people. “A few times, local students would take the class, and then the next semester, their mom would take it. We said the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer before class every day and I told them, ‘if you don’t want to do that, then you don’t have to take the class.’” A lot of the material was directly related to the Bible and Zig made reference to that. “When I left Ft. Scott, I brought a lot of that stuff with me to my coaching job at UT Martin.” He never taught the class again but used material from the class and other handouts he collected at the weekly team meetings. “I wanted to help our team members not only learn about rodeo but about life; and how to be self-motivated. In the fall semester each year we would teach our members how to set goals. In the spring each team member would have to turn in a set of school, personal and rodeo goals in to me before they could participate. Big goals are important but the process of how to reach those big goals are the most important. At the end of each team meeting we would have some handouts dealing with the mental side of competition or life. After you learn how to do something, your success is 80% mental and 20% physical. At the end of each meeting, we had a short Bible study – I’d find a Bible verse that directly applies to the topic we discussed in the meeting.” We have a rule book in rodeo and a rule book in life. My belief is that life is tough but when you are tough on yourself (striving to live like God wants us to) , life is much easier on you. John shared his testimony with his team and talked about what makes him tic. “I think that’s important. You teach about rodeo, but more important, you teach about life. Not many are going to make a living at rodeo, so life is very important.
John went from Ft. Scott to University of Tennessee – Martin in 1997. “I wanted a chance to keep kids for four years instead of just two,” he said. “My recruiting mainly came from former students who told me about prospects.” His success at Martin helped produce the first-ever National Champion Men’s team east of the Mississippi river in 2014, and every team member on that team was born and raised east of the Mississippi. Martin has sent a team to the CNFR 24 out of the 25 years he’s coached there. He was named coach of the year in 2013 and he has helped produce and promote the UT Martin’s Annual Spring College Rodeo. The event has been named the Ozark Region’s “rodeo of the Year” 13 times in the span of 14 years.
“I’m a full-time fund raiser and part time coach,” he jokes. “Our rodeo got so big in 2019 that we were forced to go to reserve seats – we have lots of support from the community.” He is quick to add that much of the success in the fund raising comes from his wife, Diane, who he met at one of Sankey Rodeo Schools. “She does a silent auction during the rodeo – that brought in $22,000 in three days this year. She does our social media page and helps out in many ways. Coach Luthi says that behind every good man there is a Great Woman and she is his great woman. They have one daughter, Katelyn, 27, who is a mechanical engineer for Eastman Chemical Company. The plan is to move over by their daughter in Kingsport, Tennessee. “We’ll find something to do; I’m not sure what, but I’m sure God will lead us to do something – I’m not just going to sit around the house.”
He is very thankful for the many opportunities that God has blessed him with. “Do what’s right, do the best you can, and treat other people the way you want to be treated are three rules that he asks his team members and himself to strive to live by. He learned that from a video tape called Do Right by Lou Holtz. I tell our kids you learn a lot from your mom and dad – one of the most valuable lessons that mine taught me was how to work. If you’ve got that, a good attitude and faith in God, your chances having a positive impact in life are much better.”