What do you get for the basketball coach who has everything?
Apparently more of the same in the case of Paul Landreaux of El Camino College, whose team opened in community college playoffs Tuesday in quest of the state championship.
That's hardly an idle dream at El Camino, which is going for its second straight title and third in six years. In his six previous seasons at El Camino Landreaux had the Warriors in the state finals three times. His record there is 193-42, a winning percentage of .821. As a colleague puts it, "If you want to win the state title, you know you'll have to tangle with Landreaux and El Camino. They'll be there."
Landreaux's office is covered in coach-of-the-year awards and team photos of the perennial Metropolitan Conference champions. His teams have led the nation several times in defensive average. Landreaux has about as much to prove at El Camino as John Wooden at UCLA.
Outside Looking In
Yet Landreaux remains on the outside looking in at the college game most of the fans see--the four-year, major college level that makes coaches like Wooden celebrities.
Landreaux has had his hat in the ring regularly; he was considered at Long Beach State and at Loyola Marymount. He probably would have been a candidate at Cal State Fullerton but George McQuarn changed his mind and decided to "unresign." And Landreaux has reached a Catch-22 position: At age 42 and with his coaching credentials, an assistant's position is no longer attractive, and the El Camino job is good enough that Landreaux says a four-year post now would have to be a Godfather job--an offer-you-can't-refuse.
"I'm very, very surprised somebody has not selected him," said Torrance High Coach Carl Strong, a former assistant to Landreaux and later to Ed Goorjian at Loyola. "I find it hard to believe. I find it inconceivable."
Landreaux once lamented about his lack of attractiveness to four-year schools, "I guess they want somebody to score 100 points a game. All we do is win."
These days Landreaux is not only resigned to staying at El Camino for the foreseeable future but says there are new challenges coming next season in the forms of a new conference and the new NCAA grades ruling that may see more major college recruits heading to junior colleges to work on their eligibility.
"How can you not be happy with this situation?" he said. "I couldn't ask for a better junior college situation. It's ideal. I have great facilities, we're in a great location.
"We're one of the few junior colleges in Southern California that offers cable television (El Camino games are shown on a delayed basis by Group W). The pay is excellent, the people are excellent. The only thing that would necessarily draw me to a four-year situation would be a package that would have to be twice what I have at El Camino. I would have to look long and hard at any four-year job.
"I've turned down so many assistant coaching jobs . . . . I've been an assistant coach at the university level and sort of paid my dues, and I certainly know enough about dealing with the youth of today to coach at any level. I don't think an assistant job would appeal at this time. There isn't that much more for me to prove."
Big Problem: Turnover
The big challenge in maintaining consistency at the junior college level is in integrating the yearly turnover of talent. El Camino rarely has a problem attracting talented players. The dilemma for Landreaux and his junior college counterparts is that he has a player for no longer than two years--less time to put together a team than even many high school coaches.
"That's a trying process at the juco level to be as consistently successful as we've been," Landreaux said. "We think we do a good job of getting the maximum out of the kids."
Landreaux's base of operation is always defense, starting with his 1-2-2 match-up zone on which he has written a book. Then he formulates a plan based on the talent on hand.
When he had 6-8 star Ed Catchings, Landreaux won by pounding the ball inside. Last year he had standout guards Mark Wade and Greg Hill and gave the team more latitude to run. The Warriors ran all the way to a 34-1 record and the state title--belying the charge heard sometimes that Landreaux's teams ignore offense.
Praised by Coach, Player
"When one understands defense, one can attack an offense," Strong said. "I've seen him do some innovative things, spur of the moment, on offense. He understands the game. Another mark of a quality coach is he recognizes the talent and adjusts to the players on hand--but not in his basic approach."
Camino star Roland H'Orvath, a big scorer at Redondo High, agreed: "He lets you know the defense is what you're going to work on when you're there. On the offensive end he comes up with some things that surprise me. He knows defense so well that he knows how to pick it apart, too. Sometimes it's amazing to me what he comes up with (to counter defenses). He knows a lot about offense."