Historical Figures in A COACH AT HEART

My favorite discovery while researching A COACH AT HEART was the love the historical figures presented in the story still have for each other after all these decades. Players for the coaches and vice-versa, and teammates for each other.

No question that the guys mentioned in A COACH AT HEART have led extraordinary lives. Here is a sampling.



Skip Vanderbundt, the El Dorado County High star who was recruited to Oregon State in the 1960s, went on to play 10 seasons in the NFL, nine with the 49ers and one with the Saints. He picked off 14 passes in his career. He later rose to vice president of a major commercial real estate firm in Northern California.



John Ralston compiled a 555-36-3 record in nine seasons at Stanford, but it was his decision to install a passing offense before the 1968 season that led to the events detailed in A COACH AT HEART. Before coming to The Farm, Ralston led Utah State to two bowl games in four years and developed NFL Hall of Fame DT Merlin Olson. He left Palo Alto for Denver, where he was 34-33-3 with the Broncos and helped build a team that went to the Super Bowl after he left. He also served as the offensive coordinator of the Eagles for one season and later was the head coach at San Jose State for four years, and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

— It’s tough to follow a legend, and such a fate befell Jack Christiansen, who succeeded Ralston as Stanford’s head coach. While he never had a losing season in five years, his teams never reached the former great heights and never went bowling. Not to be overlooked is his outstanding professional career, in which he was a defensive back for the Lions for eight years during the 1950s and twice led the NFL in interceptions. He became the first NFL player to return two punts for touchdowns in the same game. He was voted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1970 and passed away from cancer in 1986.

Bill Moultrie, who coached the Stanford freshman team in the period “George Steele” was there, went on to become a highly regarded track coach at Howard and coached the USA track team’s relay runners in the 1992 Olympics. He was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2007.

Jim Plunkett not only won the Heisman Trophy, but became the first pick of the ensuing NFL draft by the Patriots. He was immediately beat up by opposing defenses, thanks to an unusually weak offensive line. His career thought to be in tatters, he was picked up by the Raiders and went on to guide the silver-and-black to two Super Bowls. He is the only QB to win two Super Bowls to not be in enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

— His successor at Stanford, Don Bunce, became a noted orthopedic surgeon and was the Stanford football team physician. He died of a heart attack in 2003, at the age of 54.

— Linebacker Jeff Siemon was a first-round draft choice of Minnesota, where he was a stalwart leader of the Vikings defense for 11 seasons. The four-time Pro Bowler was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006. He is a director of Search Ministries, a nondenominational Christian organization that works with churches and ministry for men.

— Defensive tackle Pete Lazetich was drafted by San Diego and played a couple of years for the Chargers. He later formed a legal services firm in Reno, where he works closely with attorney John Sande III, who was a senior center for the 1970 team and became a leading source for A COACH AT HEART.

Gene Washington went on to a standout career as a receiver with the 49ers, became Stanford’s assistant athletic director, and became an NFL executive, retiring in 2009 as the league’s top enforcement director.

— Offensive coordinator Mike White became known as a guru of the passing game. At Cal, he developed eventual pro QB Steve Bartkowski and began the tutelage of Vince Ferragamo, the QB who transferred to Nebraska and also went to the NFL. While has 1975 Bears shared the Pac-8 championship, perhaps his finest job was at Illinois, where the Illini in 1983 won their first Big Ten title in 20 years.

— Receiver Randy Vataha joined the Patriots with Plunkett and played six seasons, catching 51 passes and nine touchdowns in his rookie season, his most productive. He completed his pro career in Green Bay in 1977. He later became CEO of Bob Woolf Associates, which negotiated contracts for athletes and entertainers. He also founded  a brokerage for pro sports franchises.

— The placekicker for USC who drove a dagger through the Indians’ collective heart in 1969, Ron Ayala, became an executive with some event security providers.

— The USC QB that year and in 1970, Jimmy Jones, went on to play in Canada, where he led Montreal to the Grey Cup championship game twice, winning once. According to one article, Jones, who lived in Pennsylvania, chose USC in part because he saw the “I Love Lucy” episode when Lucy and Ricky went to California.

Clarence Davis ran for the critical first down in USC’s final drive against Stanford in the 1969 and was fictionally pummeled in a Raiders practice when an injured George Steele couldn’t make a block on a kickoff return. In real life, he had a solid eight-year NFL career in Oakland and was the MVP of the 1977 Super Bowl

Benny Barnes, who took a starting position at cornerback at Stanford and immediately became a star, later became a four-year starter in Dallas. He went into business with several Cowboys before cashing out and returning to football as equipment manager for Contra Costa College in the Bay Area.

— The quarterback who left Stanford, Jesse Freitas, led the nation in passing in 1973 at San Diego State and played two seasons for the Chargers. He has lived for years in and around Petaluma.

Dave Tipton, allegedly the inspiration for the “Thunder Chickens” nickname for the defensive line, played for the Giants, Chargers and Seahawks. He later returned to Palo Alto and served as an assistant coach for many years.

— Running back Jackie Brown is an attorney in Washington, D.C.

— Fullback Hillary Shockley was involved in financial management in Los Angeles.

Bill Montgomery, the QB who nearly engineered a comeback for Arkansas in the 1970 season opener, became an energy executive in Dallas. His wife did even better, founding the financial management firm Westwood Holdings Group, which is worth around $5 billion. The Montgomerys are also longtime financial benefactors of the university.

— While the 1970 opener was devastating to the Hogs, its long-term impact can’t be underestimated because of the performance of Jon Richardson, a running back and kick returner who was the first black Razorback to receive significant playing time. He played three seasons and became something of a hero as Arkansas began bringing more blacks into the program. He died of a heart attack in 2002 at the age of 50, and was reportedly living in Arizona and working for Sprint at the time.

— Defensive end Greg Sampson played seven seasons for the old Houston Oilers, who switched him to the offensive line. He became a standout starter, but when a 1979 head injury resulted in a blood clot, he had to retire.

— From Ohio State’s Rose Bowl team, QB Rex Kern played four years in the NFL, returned to Columbus and got a PhD. and serves as kind of a spokesman for the Buckeyes of that era. FB John Brockington played seven NFL seasons in Green Bay and one in Kansas City, and now runs the John Brockington Foundation in San Diego to encourage organ donation. NG  Jim Stillwagon was most recently in the news after facing road rage charges after a strange incident in Ohio, but the counts were tossed and he’s now suing the police for spoiling his reputation. DB Jack Tatum became known as “The Assassin” during his nine years with the Raiders and left an unfortunate legacy by paralyzing Patriots WR Darryl Stingley with a hit during a pre-season game. Tatum died in 2010.

— The tight end who caught the pass from Plunkett to set up the go-ahead touchdown for Stanford in that first Rose Bowl game was Bob Moore. He played eight NFL seasons, mostly with the Raiders, and later became a prosecutor in the Bay Area. He is now in private practice.

Jack Schultz was a senior safety and team captain of the first Rose Bowl squad. He went into financial sales, and is western regional manager for Equity Investment Corp.

— Bunce’s successor, Mike Boryla, threw for around 3,900 yards over two seasons as the Stanford starting QB. His pro career, mainly with the Eagles, was cut short by an injury. According to the Philadelphia Enquirer, he now lives in Colorado, became a tax lawyer and mortgage broker, has written six plays and recently portrayed Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame on the stage. Here’s a link to the article.



— One of the most controversial events in the history of the Aztecs athletics program was the 1980 firing of head coach Claude Gilbert late in a 4-8 season. San Jose State smartly picked him up in 1984, and he led the Spartans to a 38-30-1 record in six years, with two 10-win seasons and a pair of bowl games. He was later the Aztecs defensive coordinator from 1995-99, and is now retired and living in Grass Valley, Calif.

— Receiver Nate Fergerson is far more interesting for what he did later in life. Since some high schools in New York City don’t have space for football teams, he created a program in Harlem the combines athletes from different campuses and coaches them. He did play in the old World Football League.

Dwight McDonald played four years in the NFL for the Chargers, totaling 46 catches and eight touchdowns.

Craig Penrose played four years with the Denver Broncos, and now works in commercial insurance in Northern California.

— His backup, Kevin Sneed, was a longtime physical education teacher and coach in the Bakersfield area.

— The University of Tampa quarterback who burned the Aztecs in a surprisingly close game, Freddie Solomon, enjoyed an 11-year NFL career as a wide receiver in Miami and San Francisco. He hauled in 371 passes in his stellar career and earned two Super Bowl rings. He died of cancer in 2012.

— The Aztecs recruiting dreams were no joke. Mark Malone started at Arizona State in 1978-79 and played 10 seasons in the NFL, eight in Pittsburgh. He led the Steelers to one NFL championship game. Malone now works in broadcasting. Joe Roth led Cal to a No. 14 national ranking in 1975 and picked up several second-place votes in 1976, but by then had suffered a return of skin cancer, from which he died in 1977. Marcus Allen won the Heisman Trophy at USC in a year in which he ran for more than 2,000 yards, played 16 NFL seasons with the Raiders and Chiefs and is in the NFL Hall of Fame. He was Super Bowl MVP in 1983 and NFL MVP in 1985. Dokie Williams starred at UCLA and played for the Raiders for five seasons, with 148 receptions and 25 scores. He went into the mortgage business after his pro career. Brian Graham played both football and baseball at UCLA and stayed in baseball after college. While he never reached the majors, he became an acclaimed minor league manager in the Indians organization and was later an executive with the Pirates and Orioles.

Herman Edwards went on to play 11 years, mostly with the Eagles, and picked off 11 passes. He was the head coach of the Jets and Chiefs, and is now an ESPN analyst.

Monte Jackson played nine years with the Rams and Raiders, and led the league in interceptions in 1976 with 10.

David “Deacon” Turner spent three years in the NFL with the Bengals, mostly as a kick returner. He never fulfilled his pro promise, however, and returned to the Bakersfield area. He was killed during a brawl with a Kern County sheriff’s deputy in 2011.

Darrel “Mouse” Davis coached Portland State to a 42-24 record, where he produced NFL quarterbacks in June Jones and Neil Lomax. He’s considered the father of the run-and-shoot offense. He also was offensive coordinator for high-scoring Hawaii football teams in the mid-2000s that were coached by Jones.

Joe Davis got a cup of coffee with the Raiders before following his father’s footsteps to become a longtime high school coach. He now lives in Arkansas.

— You probably kn0w about Bill Walsh. After leading Stanford to those two post-season wins, he took over the 49ers and led them to three Super Bowl victories in 10 seasons. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Known as “The Genius,” he died of leukemia in 2007.

Mike Douglass, the first “X-man” at SDSU, played eight seasons at outside linebacker for the Packers and one for the Chargers and was twice an All-Pro. He is now a personal trainer and runs a restaurant in the San Diego suburb of Alpine.

Mark Halda became a frequent starter for the Aztecs. He went on to become a longtime coach and instructor at Palomar Community College in San Marcos, Calif.

Ron Smith caught 63 passes over six NFL seasons with the Eagles, Chargers and Rams. Bar trivia — he’s the only Los Angeles Ram to ever catch a Super Bowl touchdown pass.

Bobby Bowden, who coached West Virginia against Stanford and Florida State against SDSU, won 357 college games and led the Seminoles to a mind-boggling 14 straight years of 10 wins or more. His teams won 22 bowl games and two national championships.

Don Warren played 14 NFL seasons with the Redskins as perhaps the league’s prototypical tight end of his era, starting 159 games over that span, including four Super Bowls.


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