No secrets to De La Salle's success
In his 29 years coaching football at De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., Bob Ladouceur has compiled a 334-20-3 record, making him arguably the greatest prep football coach of all time. His Spartans have been named national champions by ESPNRISE.com (formerly Student Sports) six times, including four straight years (2000-03).
They've also been honored as the top team in California 12 times (1992, 1994-2003, 2007), competed in 25 California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) North Coast Section (NCS) championship games with 23 victories, and put together a possibly unmatchable 151-game winning streak between 1992 and 2003. The second longest win streak in U.S. history is 106 games.
But for Ladouceur, the true measure of success is in shaping the lives of the students at the Catholic all-boys school 35 miles east of San Francisco.
Ladouceur's team, ranked No. 6 in the ESPN RISE FAB 50, is 2-0 heading into Saturday's nationally televised home game (ESPNU, 10:30 p.m. ET) against FAB 50 No. 28 Don Bosco Prep of Ramsey, N.J. The two recent wins came against Serra (San Mateo, Calif.) and Loyola of Los Angeles.
"Preparation is a high priority," said Ladouceur, whose teams regularly defeat opponents from schools twice their size. "It's also about offseason hard work. I tell the boys that in order to succeed you have to be working to get yourself into a position where success is possible."
Easier said than done. In 2003, Ladouceur steered a team of what he called "really tough kids" -- led by the late Terrence Kelly -- to a 13-0 record and a No. 1 position in the nation.
"Our front line was guys who were 5-foot- 11 or 6-feet and 200 pounds average, so we weren't very big, but the kids were focused. They were great to work with and exceeded all our expectations. They were technically diamonds. I thoroughly enjoyed that team."
This past season, Ladoucuer's squad competed in its second straight large-school state title game since the CIF reinstituted a championship bowl format three seasons ago.
De La Salle defeated Centennial of Corona 37-31 to complete a 13-0 season, the 16th time Ladouceur's program has finished the season without a blemish.
This season, should the Spartans win their first 12 games and advance to the NCS Division I championship game, Ladouceur -- who already boasts the highest winning percentage in state history at .944 -- will be in a position to become the winningest coach in California history.
A victory in that game will give Ladouceur his 345th win, passing Marijon Ancich of St. Paul of Santa Fe Springs and Tustin (both in the Los Angeles area), who compiled 344 wins in 42 years combined at the two schools.
HS Football on ESPNU
Will Bob Ladouceur rack up win No. 335 on Saturday? You don't have to travel to California to see De La Salle in action. ESPNU will be there when Don Bosco Prep challenges the Golden State power on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. ET.
For more on the game, check out Greg Biggins' profile of De La Salle's star running back, Kylan Butler.
Already the youngest coach to reach 300 wins in California, Ladouceur is in a position to pass Ancich with 12 fewer years in the trenches.
He's cerebral, and unlike coaches who intimidate their charges into performing on the field, Ladouceur challenges his players.
Neither the 2003 shooting death of Kelly nor his own heart attack before the 2004 season sent Ladouceur into retirement.
He was born in 1954 in Detroit. When he was 10, his father, a hardware salesman, moved the family of six to San Ramon, Calif., where his mother became an elementary school secretary.
Ladouceur became a star running back and inside linebacker at San Ramon Valley High School, landing a scholarship to the University of Utah.
Homesick for the Bay Area and disillusioned with Utah's coaching staff, Ladouceur returned home and enrolled at San Jose State.
"I wasn't going to play football, but my dad took a clip from my freshman year at Utah and showed it to the coaching staff."
Soon thereafter, Ladouceur got a call from Spartans coach Darryl Rodgers inviting him to play. His acceptance was contingent on an agreement that he would not play on the scout team.
Although he was never a big star in college, Ladouceur gained experience that helped him as a coach, mentor and teacher. After a short stint as a probation officer, he began his coaching career as an assistant at Monte Vista High School (Danville, Calif.), before taking the reins at De La Salle in 1979.
"I came out of college with good working knowledge of the game that I learned from Rodgers at San Jose State," he said.
That knowledge, coupled with longtime assistant coach and good friend Terry Eidson's penchant for preparation, has paid big dividends.
"Preparation is not fun. It's hard work and difficult, but doing something difficult builds character," Ladouceur said. "It's difficult to have fun with drudgery and repetition. The fun is on game night, making it pay off."
Ladouceur hopes for a payoff against Don Bosco Prep under the national spotlight, a place his Spartans have been many times in the past.
Ladouceur is frank about why he has never moved on to the next level.
It's not about the streak, or being the all-time winningest. I appreciate the benchmark and the recognition of the long haul and my hard work, but it's about being a positive part of so many young kids' lives. It's pretty
-- De La Salle coach Bob Ladouceur
"I've never really considered college coaching, although I was offered the head coaching job at St. Mary's [College in Moraga, Calif.], and Bill Walsh approached me a couple of times about interviewing for the staff at Stanford," he said.
"My strength is in teaching. Plus, I have a feel for the physics and geometry of the game, and see how it applies on the field. I saw the difference between high school and college. College is a job. High school is about teaching and the joy of the game."
A religious studies teacher at De La Salle, Ladouceur has been married for 31 years to his wife, Beverly. The couple has three children, including the youngest, Michael, who attends De La Salle and plays in the band. Oldest daughter, Jennifer, threw the discus at California High (San Ramon, Calif.) and UC Irvine.
"The reason Lad's teams keep winning year after year is the consistency he and Terry have in the approach," said De La Salle basketball coach Frank Allocco, who is regarded as one of the top high school basketball coaches in the country. "The message is always the same each year, and another part of it is, he gets the kids to buy into the approach of the program and the tradition. Plus, he's coaching for the right reasons, building lives and character in kids."
When you go to a De La Salle practice and see the players scrimmage, it's amazing how each player's body is in tip-top shape, from Arizona-bound running back Kylan Butler and option-quarterback Blake Wayne, who runs the famous veer offense, to the last man on the junior varsity squad practicing on the opposite side of the field.
Based on what he's seen on film, Ladouceur said his players will need every bit of his wit and guile, and their execution, to defeat Don Bosco.
"They take their football seriously there. They're fit and lean," said Ladouceur, who still has questions about his defense, which has given up an uncharacteristic 49 points in the two victories.
Being No. 1 in California and No. 6 in the nation would have some coaches overconfident, but not Ladouceur. He sees much room for improvement. "Our line is getting better, but I don't know if it's quick enough for this game."
In the past, many of his teams have started slow. The game against the Ironmen will be another test of the Spartans' will to win.
"It all depends on whether our guys can rise to a better opponent and compete with a national-stature team," Ladouceur said.
In the long run, it won't matter whether the team beats Don Bosco and goes all the way to give Ladouceur a chance to become California's winningest coach this year. His legacy as one of the nation's greatest football coaches has already been cemented.
Besides, the coach has no plans to retire.
"What else am I going to do now that I'm so deep in my career?" he said. "I have great coaches and friends around me, helping me do what I do best. Why would I want to get out? Besides, it's not about the streak, or being the all-time winningest. I appreciate the benchmark and the recognition of the long haul and my hard work, but it's about being a positive part of so many young kids' lives. It's pretty humbling."
Harold Abend covers high school sports for ESPNRISE.com.