'I'm pretty sure I'll retire from teaching at 60, but I'm not sure I'll ever stop coaching. . . . My idea is to coach football.'
Gene Vollnogle, who last week became the first California high school football coach to win 250 games when his top-ranked Carson Colts thrashed Fremont, 44-0, figures on retiring from Carson High in five years, when he turns 60, but says he will undoubtedly continue coaching, either as a volunteer somewhere or working with youngsters.
He doesn't care what level it's on, or even if they're keeping records. He just likes coaching.
"I'm pretty sure I'll retire from teaching at 60," he said, "but I'm not sure I'll ever stop coaching. I could be just as happy coaching a junior All-American team in the neighborhood. I doubt I'll ever stop coaching. It wouldn't bother me if the principal said, 'You're the assistant B coach.' My idea is to coach football."
It might not bother Vollnogle but it would certainly raise some eyebrows if he was made a B coach. Vollnogle's 250 wins are a milestone only as a round number; according to Cal Hi Sports he has been the state's all-time winningest coach since passing Manual Arts' Jim Blewett at 233. The only other California coaches with more than 200 victories are Dwight (Goldie) Griffith, who won 208 at Bakersfield, and Bennie Pierce at Saratoga, still active at 202.
National Record 397
Vollnogle may not challenge the national record of 397 held by Gordon Wood of Brownwood, Tex., but at the rate he's going--averaging 9.9 victories a year over the last seven years--300 is a realistic target. Not that it means much to the stocky, plain-talking ex-lineman.
He said he was surprised to learn he's the state's winningest coach and didn't feel No. 250 was very special. "I don't really keep track of it," he said. "There was nothing big about 200 either. It's just a matter of I enjoyed coaching. When it isn't fun I'll quit."
Vollnogle isn't surprised, though, that he ranks with the veterans. He has been a regular at coaching clinics since he took over the Banning B team in 1953. He still likes clinics, he said, but has noticed "the more I go to, the less and less people I know. There's only two or three of us (longtime veterans) left."
Vollnogle went into coaching immediately after completing his college career at Pepperdine, joining the Banning staff in 1953. Four years later he joined Paul Huebner as varsity co-head coach, forming a partnership that would produce two City titles at Banning and four more at Carson. Vollnogle added another City title last year, after Huebner retired.
Sleeps Better Now
Vollnogle says the only real difference in attitude between the youngster who began coaching 32 years ago and the 55-year-old veteran of today is that he sleeps a little better. "I still get the adrenaline before the game," he said. "I don't lose as much sleep as I used to, though I still do after the game, even when we win. You lie there replaying it, thinking about the things you could have done. But I used to have to get up at one in the morning and ride my bike."
Vollnogle suspects he was born to coach and he is certainly the right coach in the right place. Like the harbor area, he's not fancy but solid, a little rough around the edges. He holds two qualities in high regard--loyalty and effort. At Carson, he sees himself more as another foot soldier--though a highly placed one--than as the warlord.
"We're all struggling together trying to make the school better, the team better, the kids better," he said. "I don't think you'll ever hear me say 'my team.' This team belongs to Carson. I'm just a member of the team."
Vollnogle's dream at one time was to coach his alma mater, Fremont High, but when the chance came to rejoin his old high school coach in the 1950s, Vollnogle wouldn't leave Banning. "I like the kids in the harbor area," he said. "They're tough kids. There's black kids, white kids, Mexicans, Samoans. I like the mixture. They get along well and they make for good athletic teams."
Favorite Went 2-6
His favorite team isn't one of the title winners, but his first team at Carson, where he was transferred in 1963 and was handed a varsity schedule to be played entirely with underclassmen. The team went 2-6 but Vollnogle said, "That was probably my best coaching job. We never got beat by more than two touchdowns and we scored a touchdown in every game. The kids would come off the field every game and say, 'Coach, what do we have to do to win?' "
Three years later Carson went 11-0 and won the City title. Carson has since added four more as Vollnogle has won nearly 75% of his games there.
Vollnogle was born in his parents' house in Watts near Roosevelt Park, where he spent most of his nonschool hours. His father was a laborer, his mother a teacher. "They didn't really encourage sports. Neither of them ever saw me play football," he said.