CONCORD, Calif. — De La Salle (Concord, Calif.)
football coach Bob Ladouceur confirmed what much of the high school sports community already assumed on Friday.
The legendary football coach stepped down as head coach from arguably the nation's top program, because "It's the right time to go."
Fitting, because among the many traits that led Ladouceur to an unprecedented coaching career is timing. His assistants say that he seemed to call just the right play at just the right moment.
So, when the 58-year-old noted that timing played a key role in his decision, most assumed it was all about him.
Turns out, he was also
speaking about his replacement, 33-year-old Justin Alumbaugh, a former
player who Ladouceur picked out 15 years ago.
“I would probably still be coaching if I didn’t have the perfect guy
to take over,” Ladouceur said. “It was more important for me that the
program stay strong than for me to hang on a few more years to coach.
"I leave absolutely with no regret.... I'm forever grateful. It's better than I could ever wish for."
Ladouceur told a gathering of students, coaches, former and current players, fellow teachers and media on campus that after 34 seasons and 399 career wins he was ready for a break from the rigors of head coaching. He'll still coach running backs from time to time, help Alumbaugh when asked and be on the sideline Friday nights.
"But I won't be looking over Justin's shoulder: He has complete autonomy
of the program," Ladouceur said. "I will still be involved in some
capacity in the program. However, 34 years as head coach is a long time.
It's a good time for this transition. The staff is intact; the program
is healthy and Justin Alumbaugh is a perfect choice to take over. ...
He's earned it."See Mitch Stephens' notes from the news conference on Twitter (@mitchmashmax)
He leaves a legacy that is unmatched in California and perhaps the country. His teams have won at least eight mythical national titles, including the 2012 team that finished No. 1 in the MaxPreps Freeman rankings. The Spartans finished 15-0 for the first time and return many key players, including starting quarterback
"I don't think it's a stretch to say that he is the greatest high school football coach ever in the state, if not the country," said former De La Salle running back and assistant Patrick Walsh, now the head coach at Serra (San Mateo, Calif.)
. "I think considering who he is and for what he's accomplished, Lad has to be mentioned in the same conversation with John Wooden and what he did with college basketball." See the slideshow with our best Bob Ladouceur photos
Ladouceur never choked up or delayed or seemed remorseful in any way, even
finishing one win shy of 400, partly because he never cared much about
his legacy or win total, partly because he’s not leaving the program entirely
and partly because he feels the program is as strong as ever.
Besides Alumbaugh, the entire De La Salle staff will return, including 31-year assistant and defensive coordinator Terry Eidson.
does a lot of the heavy lifting already,” Ladouceur said. “He’s taken a
tremendous responsibility off my shoulders and just grown tremendously
as a coach.”
Ladouceur knew Alumbaugh was special when he was a senior in high
school. He’d bring him thick scouting reports and Alumbaugh would flip
though it once and have it memorized.
“He was amazing,”
Ladouceur said. “I remember thinking this kid is too much. He just
understood the game. He was a natural at understanding the game.”
Alumbaugh earned a baseball scholarship to UCLA but Ladouceur told
him he had a future as a coach and teacher. Every summer and early fall,
Alumbaugh returned and coached. “I thought about it more and more,”
Alumbaugh said. “We have educators in our family. Lad told me it was a
noble profession and I knew that it was. I finally realized this is what
But he wasn’t pushing for Ladouceur’s job until Ladouceur was ready
to step down. Alumbaugh had plenty of offers other places, but never
“I’m his biggest fan,” Ladouceur said. “I felt I owed it to him. I want him to do it and succeed and I know he will.”
Matching Ladouceur’s success on the field, of course, will be nearly impossible to duplicate.
Spartans won more North Coast Section titles (28) than lost games (25) and
own the nation’s longest win streak of 151 games (1992-2004). But Alumbaugh is well aware what he’s getting into. He, Ladouceur
and Eidson laid out a
plan for Alumbaugh to take over three years ago.
“To succeed one
of the greatest coaches in the history of everything — I would be
foolish to say it wasn’t daunting,” Alumbaugh said.
But Alumbaugh, a former tight end and inside linebacker for the
Spartans from 1995-97, didn’t seem intimidated or uncomfortable in the
75-minute press conference. He smiled easily. Cracked jokes. But paid
“I can’t fathom 399 wins,” he said. “That’s ridiculous. What I can
fathom is the impact coach Lad had on me and all the other players
before and after me. I’m confident we can continue to make that kind of
impact, that we can reach kids and challenge them to perform at their
"But having this opportunity is not something to shy away from. It's something I embrace."See our photos from the press conference
The blueprint that Ladouceur drew up and the program he built will all stay intact, meaning the Spartans shouldn't drop off too far, say local coaches and experts.
"De La Salle is still going to be De La Salle," Walsh said. "As long as there's not a mass exodus, the structure remains the same and six Catholic high schools don't open in the area, there won't be a problem."
But losing Ladouceur might cause some public relations problems, said Pittsburg (Calif.)
coach Vic Galli, who played on Ladouceur's first championship team in 1982. Like Walsh, Galli was also an assistant at De La Salle.
See our slideshow of notable De La Salle alumni
"I don't think De La Salle will struggle, but when you lose the face of the franchise it might take away some of the luster for potential football players," Galli said.
"I hope it does," he added, laughing.
There was plenty of laughter at Friday's press conference, especially when Ladouceur was asked about finishing his career one win shy of 400.
"I understand the number (399) has some kind of weirdness to it. Maybe
way down the road they'll think I died midseason," Ladouceur said.
Among many of Ladouceur's accomplishments:
* His 399 wins are most in California history.
* His .938 winning percentage for coaches with more than 200 wins is a national record.
* The Spartans won a national record 151 games in a row from 1992-2004, at the time it had more than doubled the previous mark.
* Since a 35-27 loss to Pittsburg in the 1991 North Coast Section championship, De La Salle has not lost to a Northern California team — a span of 236 games.
* De La Salle has appeared in all seven CIF Bowl Championships (winning five) and has captured 28 NCS titles, the last 21 consecutively.
* He has more NCS titles (28) than career losses (25) and has never had a losing season.
"Beyond all that, he's one of the most unique individuals in the history of sports, he really is," Walsh said. "It's transcended to amazing accomplishments. What he's accomplished — more section titles than losses — is almost laughable."
Ladouceur stayed strong and poised when he reflected deepest about the last 34 years. It was after he stopped reading his prepared speech.
"I enjoyed every minute," he said. "I couldn't have asked for a better career or life, and I could have asked for a better school. It's an amazing place. There's a lot of community and love, a lot of people so dedicated to what they do. It's not about money or the paycheck. It's about the mission, about walking away from this life and leaving your little space a better place."See the Bob Ladouceur career infographic