When Bob Ladouceur took over the football program at De La Salle High School in 1979, he was a wide-eyed 24-year-old who had zero experience as a varsity football coach. When he stepped down from that position Friday, his résumé included 399 victories, more than any other high school coach in state history, a 151-game winning streak and five state championships.
So we know this much about him: He's pretty good at learning on the job.
His teams won 28 North Coast Section titles, produced 20 unbeaten seasons and never had a losing record. His last team finished 15-0 and was ranked No. 1 in the nation by ESPN. But those close to him say the numbers are only a reflection of what made him special, both as a coach and a teacher.
"In football, you know him for being meticulous, a motivator and running the veer offense," Steve Coccimiglio said. "But what I noticed is just as a pure educator at a Catholic school, Bob has done some of his best work (teaching) religion class. I've seen him have close relationships with young students who don't play any sports."
Coccimiglio, now at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, was De La Salle's basketball coach from 1981 to 1986, during which time he came to admire his football counterpart.
"Right from the start, he set the tone with discipline, humility and respect," he said. "His accomplishments were with individual students, and winning was a byproduct. All coaches have motivating techniques. Bob's are very direct and very honest."
It was no accident that Ladouceur's teams were at their best in pressure situations. He was uncompromising about football fundamentals and physical conditioning.
"We were demanding. We were hard," Ladouceur, 58, said at Friday's retirement announcement. "Playing for us is difficult. But the end result is the kids emerge stronger and more confident. Whatever endeavor they get into, they know they can put their nose to the grindstone and succeed. That's the ultimate goal of this program."
Nor was it a surprise that his players rose to the most demanding challenges. He hardened his teams by playing top-flight opponents, the tougher the better. He said one of the highlights of his career was traveling to face highly ranked teams, particularly in Southern California. "I always knew we could compete with them and beat them," he said. "It kind of validated what we were doing."
In many cases, other rosters were filled with bigger, stronger players, but none was better coached or prepared. The winning key for Ladouceur was getting the most from each player and getting them all to play as a team.
He benefited immeasurably from the savvy of longtime assistant Terry Eidson, whose defensive scheming complemented a lightning-quick, precision offense that opponents came to dread. No Northern California team defeated De La Salle in the last 21 years.
Success bred success, which attracted more talented players to the private school. Some would go on to play in college and the NFL. Some never played beyond high school. What they shared was a respect for the game.
There were no showboats on Ladouceur's teams, and no boasting after victories. Even after four successive state titles, the De La Salle campus is devoid of signs or banners relishing in the team's accomplishments.
Some have marveled that the state's winningest coach never was tempted by the allure of the college game. He said there was a reason why.
"Even when I was a college kid, I wanted to work with kids. There's a special innocence to kids and a thirst to become somebody.
"Age 14 to 18 is the most dramatic change in people's lives. Adolescence is incredible -- not just physically, but emotionally, spiritually and academically. I think kids need good people around them to help them, to guide them and listen to them."
Some will also wonder why the coach is stepping down now, just one victory short of the 400 milestone. Coccimiglio is not among them.
"I think he likes that as a message to show how little numbers mean to him," Coccimiglio said.
What mattered were the kids. Ask anyone who played for him.
Contact Tom Barnidge at email@example.com.