For a gentleman who has replaced a living coaching legend, Justin Alumbaugh appeared extremely calm, gregarious and at peace.
But then, that makes a lot of sense.
It's only May and spring ball is just winding down for the new head De La Salle (Concord, Calif.)
football coach. Not only that, but Alumbaugh largely handled all big duties through the spring the past decade for the Spartans. He's been in charge of conditioning, which is a huge role and part of De La Salle's success.
And, on top of that, former De La Salle head coach Bob Ladouceur, whom Alumbaugh considers one of his best friends, is still very much in the De La Salle football program. In the office he sits right next to the 33-year-old Alumbaugh, a former De La Salle player who after 13 years on staff was hand-picked by Ladouceur as his replacement.
"He's still my mentor, still sits a few feet away," Alumbaugh said. "Every day, he gives me another little tidbit on a situation or a kid. He always has something to give."
The 58-year-old Ladouceur, who stepped down from his head coaching duties with 399 wins (only 25 losses and three ties), comes out everyday for spring ball and will be the team's new running backs coach.
Check that. The nation's best running backs coach.
"No cold sweats yet," Alumbaugh said last week with a laugh after being asked for the hundredth time about replacing Ladouceur. "I wouldn't be surprised if I get them once or twice — I'd be naïve to say that won't happen — but right now we're all right."
Alumbaugh, like the rest of the longtime De La Salle coaching crew, has had restless nights even over the most successful three-decade run in prep football history. What football coach doesn't? It's how they roll. They care about their area of expertise. They care, of course, about the kids.
It's why they've won an absolutely absurd 22 straight North Coast Section titles and 27 overall. That's more titles than total losses over 34 seasons.
For more than a decade, Alumbaugh has led De La Salle's offensive line, and he will again in 2013. It's an area that fascinates most opposing coaches when facing the Spartans, who have traditionally lined up small, fit, lean and strong.
It goes back to conditioning, as well as timing in the precise, quick-hitting veer attack. So far, so good Alumbaugh said.
"I like the group thus far, they're doing well in the weight room," he said. "They're running well. The old Spartan alumni will be happy that we're still running track and pulling tires (broad smile). Our guys are responding well and putting on some good lean muscle, which is good.
"I like our spirit thus far in spring ball but we never really know what kind of Spartan football team we will have until we hit the pads because one thing we always look for is hitters. As of right now I'm happy from what I see. For the middle of May, we're doing a pretty good job."
So with Terry Eidson coaching the defense, Mark Panella leading the quarterbacks, Alumbaugh on the line and now Ladouceur tutoring the running backs, all is fairly status quo in Spartan land.
"From the day-to-day operations, there's not much different," Alumbaugh said. "Right now for me the only thing different is a lot more e-mails and phone calls. There's a lot more demands on my time. I'm sure it will change."
One big change will be play-calling. Ladouceur called almost all the plays over the last three decades, but he always took strong input from Panella and Alumbaugh.
Now it will be the opposite. Alumbaugh will call the majority of plays.
"I might take a few suggestions if Lad has them," he said with a laugh.
Another big change — literally — is the size of De La Salle's line. The average De La Salle lineman has been in the 225-pound range. The 2013 line, led by Larry Allen III
(6-3, 260), Sumner Houston
(6-3, 255), and super sophomore Boss Tagaloa
(6-3, 280), the Spartans' line will average likely at least 25 pounds heavier.
All three have shifted their weight proportions — particularly Tagaloa — from the middle to their chest and shoulders. Bigger has never meant better to De La Salle, but in this case, it probably will.
"I'd be lying to say I don't like our prospects on the line," Alumbaugh said. "But there's still a lot of honing to do."
The players haven't noticed much of a change and don't expect one in the fall either.
"Coach Alumbaugh has been running things for a while so it feels like he's picking up right where he left off," said Das Tautalatasi
, a 6-foot, 190-pound returning 1,000-yard rusher and strong safety.
Said 6-2, 225-pound junior offensive tackle Kevin Koenig
, a starter last season: "Coach Alumbaugh has been working us out forever. He's always gotten us stronger and prepared. The only change now is he's officially in charge."
On top of replacing Ladouceur, Alumbaugh takes over a team that figures to be highly ranked.
Besides highly-touted lines, they return quarterback Chris Williams
(1,804 total yards, 29 touchdowns last year) and experienced athletes on defense, including Simba Short
(6-2, 185), Kevin Griffin
(6-1, 180) and Cameron Lissarague
There's also a boatload of talent coming up from the freshman and junior varsity teams, including quarterbacks Devin Asiasi
, who started on the De La Salle basketball team as a freshman, and Anthony Sweeney
. There's also Kahlil McKenzie
, a highly-touted defensive tackle and son of Oakland Raiders GM and former NFL great Reggie McKenzie, who will transfer in the fall
Add it all up and there's talk that De La Salle will be ranked among the nation's top five.
As if Alumbaugh needs any more pressure.
"Oh sure, bring on more expectations," he said with a laugh.
As far as Ladouceur, he appears much more relaxed and unburdened. That's a relief to Alumbaugh and Eidson, who worried about their friend's health, his heart really.
Ladouceur has always been fit, but he suffered a heart attack at age 50. He internalizes much of his stress, but now with the larger responsibilities lifted, appears to be more "spry," according to Alumbaugh.
"This is a well-earned change in roles," Alumbaugh said. "He deserves to relax and enjoy more of the coaching and teaching role. He seems to be embracing it and seems more calm and not so wound up."
Despite the extra duties, Alumbaugh appears particularly calm and spry himself.
"The season is a little ways away," he said with a big smile. "Come August or September there might be a sleepless night or two, no doubt."