Out of all the meaningful words I've heard Bob Ladouceur speak in 34 years of coaching, the three I might remember most are "lame," "cheesy" and "authentic."
They came at his stepping down party on Jan. 4, a rich and surprisingly upbeat affair at De La Salle's (Concord, Calif.)
theater in front of about 200 onlookers.
Make no mistake, the 58-year-old, considered the greatest high school football coach ever, was his usual articulate and pointed self while announcing that he was stepping down as head coach.
When he entered through a side door and on to the stage, a room of loud chatter quickly went silent.
It reminded me of what Ladouceur's longtime friend and defensive coordinator Terry Eidson told me years ago: "When he takes the microphone during a rally, you can hear a pin drop."
There were kids present on this day, but most were adults and their silence spoke volumes — of admiration and respect, love and loyalty.
Ladouceur delivered a king's speech with just the right tones and messages — largely thanking all those who have participated in three decades of dizzying success on and off the field and largely reinforcing a bright and bold future under new coach Justin Alumbaugh.
When it came to questions from the media, Ladouceur held back nothing.
When asked his career highlights – one that includes a national record 94 percent winning percentage, eight mythical national titles and a 151-game win streak — Ladouceur pointed simply to his deep-rooted friendships on staff and all the players who laid it on the line. He mentioned nothing of the titles or The Streak. Bob Ladouceur: 2012 National Coach of the Year story
When asked about finishing at 399 wins, he noted some were trying to figure out a way he could get No. 400 before stepping down.
He thought such a stunt would be "lame," and never considered it.
Later when asked about the timing of his decision, he admitted he largely knew before the season but he and his coaches kept it a secret (quite an achievement in itself).
He said there was talk about him announcing prior to the season, but he didn't want some "cheesy" sendoff season. He wanted the players to have their own "authentic" season. True exchange
It hit me then — and I've been asked often — what was the key to Ladouceur's success?
In simplest terms, he was and is truly authentic. He's indisputable in his faith, actions and words.
Now there's rare trifecta.
When our 2012 National Coach of the Year
said it was about the kids and not him or the record, it was drop dead true.
When he said that De La Salle never talked about winning, it was a fact Jack.
When he told players that they needed to do A, B and C to get to D, E and F, it was 100 percent h-o-n-e-s-t.
Teens are acute at smelling a phony, so if he was anything but genuine, Lad would have been had long ago.
I think that's why I always enjoyed every Ladouceur interview, because it was always a true and real exchange. It never really felt like an interview.
Coach speak was utterly foreign to him.
You ask a question, there was a pause for thought, and then a legitimate earnest answer.
How had that translated to the football field and all that success?
Ladouceur always preached that if you challenge a teen-age male, he will go to great lengths to meet it.
"We have been brutally honest with these young men and that's not easy to deal with," Ladouceur said.
He set up a system that was completely based on commitments – especially those to one another and team.
It was consistent with the brotherhood philosophy and community. It was hard, it was tough but it all aligned — like a perfectly designed triple-option play — with his and the De La Salle faith.
The results were undeniable. Bottle it
I was struck with the program when I first started covering the Spartans in 1985 and 1986, my first two years as a journalist. I recalled telling friends, family and readers, whatever this Ladouceur gent was selling, I wanted stock. If he bottled it, then let's get it to our sick, our weak, our military, I thought.
This was long before BALCO or the steroid era, so I wasn't inferring or remotely joking that the Spartans juiced. Far from it. These kids were average sized at best, yet they ran roughshod over bigger and seemingly stronger teams.
It was way before De La Salle won mythical national crowns or attracted major talents like D.J. Williams, Maurice Jones-Drew or 2012 first-team All-American
linebacker Michael Hutchings
They were led by marginal talents and innocuous names like Panella and Vernon and Hanninger. But they put up one lopsided score after another. The played with passion and pride and without fear — much like they've done for the past 34 seasons.
Same veer offense. Same brotherhood. Same commitment.
Simple stuff, but painstaking to instill and maintain — especially in these Usain Bolt-changing times.
Sure, Ladouceur was always a brilliant play-caller. He and his staff knew the game and faced virtually every situation there could be at the prep level.
But it was this inner commitment that led to the unparalleled success and why Ladouceur ultimately gave up the end of his legacy. He felt committed to Alumbaugh. He sincerely believed Alumbaugh had earned his job.
"I owed it to him," he said. "It was the right thing to do."
Few, if any, of Ladouceur's stature would ever be so selfless.
But then again, Ladouceur never acknowledged words like legendary or legacy. He was far too in the moment shaping lives. He found those terms borderline repulsive or comical.
Or, in his words, lame.