Ladouceur built legacy with basics
Published: Monday, January 7, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 7, 2013 at 10:04 p.m.
It was laughable, is what Lenny Wagner remembered. Laughable in the scary sense. Laughable at what could come next. Laughable in feeling pity for De La Salle, the best high school football program in the country.
Then the linebackers coach for Sonoma State, Wagner was at the Oakland Coliseum to see De La Salle of Concord play Pittsburg for the 1992 NCS 3A title. Now the head football coach and interim athletic director at Santa Rosa JC, Wagner was struck by the apparent mismatch about to be played out in front of him.
“In the pre-game,” Wagner said, “the Pittsburg players were introduced. They were hootin’ and hollerin.’ Really strutting.”
They had good reason. Fifteen Pittsburg players would go on to play Division I college football.
“The De La Salle players were introduced,” Wagner said. “They were small. They stood at attention. They all got crew cuts. There’s ‘John Smith, right guard. Billy Jones the quarterback.’ Kids you never heard of.”
Faceless, in other words. Nothing to look at. Not one ounce of bravado, not one hint of confidence.
“Looking at De La Salle in the pre-game,” Wagner said, “you knew they were in trouble. Pittsburg was big and they were confident.”
Then the game started.
“Pittsburg got killed,” Wagner said.
The final score was 41-6. Another brick was added to the legend and legacy Bob Ladouceur was building. Ladouceur retired last week after coaching De La Salle for 34 years and he took with him that 399-25-3 record, those 28 NCS championships, those five state titles, that U.S. prep record of 151 consecutive victories and seven mythical national championships.
“That’s a freakish, you-scratch-your-head kind of record,” said Cardinal Newman coach Paul Cronin, who was Piner’s quarterback when De La Salle beat the Prospectors, 49-24, in 1990.
“Staggering, absolutely staggering, you could win that many games,” said Pete Dardis, who helped officiate seven De La Salle games over his career, including the 2011 CIF Open Championship game.
“That’s mind-boggling. Unreal,” said Casa Grande coach Trent Herzog.
“That’s unheard of, impossible,” said Jason Franci, the recently retired Montgomery coach, who faced De La Salle four times and lost all four by a combined score of 185-30.
De La Salle played Empire teams nine times during Ladouceur’s reign, won all nine by a combined 367-94 score. One doesn’t have to be here, there or anywhere to gaze upon those 34 years in wonder, amazement and curiosity. Ladouceur spanned five decades, the birth of distracting technology, the always-present and ever-emerging testosterone defiance. He found and captured the magic necessary to speak to and sway the adolescent male mind.
Ladouceur did it, as he said in his farewell news conference last week, to create “the authentic team experience.”
Huh? Authentic team experience? What’s that?
“They (kids) played for each other,” Franci said. “He made them care for each other.”
Ladouceur was famous for not giving pre-game speeches.
It’s up to you, he would say to his team. You’re the ones on the field. Take responsibility. Don’t point fingers. Be held accountable. He was asking teenagers to mature, grow up in a way that would prepare them for adulthood. In the real world, pointing fingers is the first step to losing a job, not keeping one.
The grumbling about De LaSalle, a private school, cherry-picking all the best talent in Northern California, is a myth, said Cronin.
“In the beginning,” Cronin said of Ladouceur’s tenure, “they had average athletes and it stayed that way for quite awhile. The better athletes are starting to come there and it’s not just because they win all the time. They (athletes) are coached better than anyone else. Their standards are higher than anyone else. They are made more responsible than anyone else.”
If one offensive lineman in practice was not moving on the snap of the ball with the others, the snap would be repeated and repeated and repeated until done correctly.
“In January, the top quarterbacks would be speaking to the team during practice in a cadence they would use in a game,” Cronin said. “When the season rolled around eight months later, the sound would be second nature to them.”
Wagner teaches an “Introduction To Coaching” class at SRJC. Ladouceur is one of the coaches Wagner uses as an example of how to coach.
Ladouceur didn’t achieve greatness by gimmicks.
“It’s like the Green Bay sweep under (Vince) Lombardi,” Franci said. “We are going to run it. You know we’re going to run it. If we do it the way we have been coached, you’re not going to stop us. That’s De La Salle. They run basic stuff and do it so well.”
Ladouceur didn’t achieve greatness by bluster.
“The only voice I heard from the De La Salle sidelines during the game,” Dardis said of that 2011 title game between De La Salle and Westlake Village, “was Ladouceur’s. In all the De La Salle games I worked, I never heard him curse. Never. He was a gentleman. Before the game, the De La Salle captains came up to me and said, ‘Mister Referee, you won’t have any issues with us (players). We won’t give you any trouble.’”
The genius of Bob Ladouceur may not be as apparent as one might think.
Is it that he could win 93.4 percent of the time over 34 years?
Or is it that he could convince teenagers to accept responsibility with great enthusiasm, while taking care of each other as they push themselves to perfection?
The answer to the first question lies in the answer to the second one.
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