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When the Coach Stands Tall: A Personal Remembrance of Bob Ladouceur


Mark Stricherz - published on 09/02/14

Ladouceur was nothing if not stolid—calm, dependable, unemotional. In class, he was quiet and reserved. Like Humphrey Bogart or Steven McQueen’s film characters, he was more committed to deeds than words. On the sidelines at football games, he did not rant or rave; the most he did was raise his voice. Ladouceur’s demeanor struck many as the antithesis of a head football coach. In his mostly positive review of the movie, San Francisco Chronicle’s Peter Hartlaub said “(o)utside of humans invaded by body snatchers and presidents whose nations are threatened by an asteroid, has there been a more stoic big screen performance than Jim Caviezel as Bob Ladouceur in ‘When the Game Stands Tall?’" In truth, Caviezel got Ladouceur right.

What outsiders saw as plodding, stoic-like behavior Ladouceur’s players and he saw as humility. Ladouceur took the spotlight off him and put it on the team. Players knew coach wasn’t looking to leverage the team’s success to a more prestigious, higher-paying job. In an interview with sportswriter Neil Hayes, the author of “When the Game Stands Tall,” Ladouceur explained his approach this way:

Kids respect true humility and that you stand for something more than winning … They will fight for you and your program if you stand for more than that. It boils down to what you believe in as a person, and I’m talking about how life should be lived and people should be treated. Kids see all that. It’s a whole package of things that have nothing to do with standing in front of a team with a piece of chalk. You can know who to block and what play to call, but it has no meaning unless the kids know who you are. Our kids aren’t fighting for wins. They’re fighting for a belief in what we stand for.

Ladouceur’s quote begs the question: what did players think the team stood for? I don’t think it is a stretch to say they played for brotherhood, solidarity, mutual respect and love. As the movie shows, before each game the team’s players enter the stadium two by two, holding hands.  And players prayed, read Scripture, and talked about their hopes and fears at a weekly chapel service on campus. I don’t recall the players in my era following either custom, but the traditions helped inculcate a collective feeling of solidarity.

Belief can only take people so far, of course. It’s one thing to think something, another to do it. De La Salle players worked and worked. In the spring, you could see them doing intervals around the track at our stadium or lifting weights inside a weight room that was the size of three large closets. At the time, this off-season dedication at the high-school level was revolutionary. Now, as multiple media outlets have reported, it is increasingly common. 

One effect of the conditioning program was to make our players quicker off the ball than those at any other high school. Caviezel himself remarked upon this. As the brother-in-law of an NFL coach, Caviezel said he had never seen a team so quick after the snap.

Another effect was our teams wore down the opposition in the second half. Good teams could compete with us for a half but were gassed after the first half hour.

Humility, solidarity, hard work—the three qualities helped make Ladouceur the winningest high-school football coach in California history. But there was another ingredient too: faith. As Ladoucer told Hayes, the Catholic faith of Ladouceur and his assistants was indispensable.

When does faith and anything not come together? I mean, you carry your faith everywhere, and you can’t take it off like your shirt or anything like that. It’s a part of you. So, [Assistant Coach] Terry [
Eidson] and I have always believed that wherever we’re going or whatever we do, we carry our faith with us and try to act from that as best we can, our faith beliefs. Football is no different. People look at it and say, "Hey, that’s an anomaly or that’s strange." I’ve never thought about it that way and I don’t think Terry ever did either. 
De La Salle’s motto, which appears on the school crest, is "Les Hommes De Foi"

"Men Of Faith."

I remember Ladouceur said two of his heroes growing up were Cesar Chavez and Bobby Kennedy, two men who, while they may have fallen short as Catholics, took their bearings from the Church. One can only wonder if more Catholic public and religious officials followed the lead of men like Coach Lad. They only have miracles to lose.

Mark Stricherz is based in Washington. He is author of Why the Democrats are Blue.

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