Two months ago, Rick Gamboa drove to Cal State Northridge hoping to coax new Matadors football Coach Bob Burt into hiring him as an assistant.
Resume in hand, Gamboa waited more than two hours while Burt finished his first meeting with his players. When the meeting finally ended, Gamboa was able to talk with Burt for only a few minutes.
But Burt was impressed enough during that first encounter that he asked Gamboa back for another, more thorough, interview. "I figured if he waited that long just to talk to me a couple of minutes, he must really want to coach bad," Burt said. A few days later, Burt made Gamboa an offer he couldn't refuse.
He could wear staff shorts, a staff shirt, a staff cap, blow a staff whistle and scream instructions to his heart's content during practice. There was only one catch: He'd have to do it for free.
Said Gamboa: "When do I start?"
Now why, you might ask, would a reasonably intelligent man like Gamboa--a high school teacher, veteran football coach and devoted family man--want to drive from Los Angeles to Northridge each day, then spend five hours on the practice field and in the film room before battling traffic again going home . . . for nothing?
"Because my aspirations have always been to coach football at the university level," Gamboa said.
And he's not alone.
Gamboa, the inside linebackers coach, is one of six volunteer assistants on Burt's nine-man staff. Dave Chauncey, Jerry Campbell, Jim Fenwick, George Naum and Scott Norris are the other men who have been promised no money for the time they put in coaching spring drills, summer conditioning and the regular season.
Said Burt: "We hope to get them each a little something at the end of the year, but nothing has been promised."
The coaches say they each hope to receive about $1,000 for their trouble. "About a dollar for every hour they put in," Burt said. "And that's a high estimate."
But Fenwick, who resigned as head coach at Pierce College to join the Northridge staff, said money was not a factor in his decision to volunteer.
"It may cost me about $3,000, but the money is not important," Fenwick said. "I'm expecting nothing monetarily. It's a chance to teach and learn at the same time. I'm still working with football players, but I'm also finding out that there are an awful lot of different ways to handle kids, structure practices, that kind of thing."
Said Naum: "I'm just happy to be at the four-year college level and coaching. There are a lot of coaches out there who wish they were."
Burt can vouch for that. He estimated that in his first 10 days as coach, he received 80 calls and 50 resumes from around the country, all coaches who wanted to know if he had a staff position for them.
It was an odd position for Burt, 44, after spending 10 years as a college assistant.
"I know what these guys are going through," Burt said. "When I talked to some of them during interviews it was like hearing my own words in a tape recording.
To take a job at U.S. International University in 1975, Burt had to commute from his home in Garden Grove to San Diego every day.
"I look at someone like Rick, an experienced coach, who wants to get into college coaching," Burt said. "He's rushing from a paying job and driving in from L.A. everyday to get to practice. I did the same thing. It's called paying your dues. It's the same as a lawyer who has to do clerk filing for peanuts for a few years. You have to be patient, put in your time, and hope someday you get your big chance."
Gamboa, 29, has been waiting for that chance for years now.
He had an 8-10 record in two seasons as head coach at Franklin High in Los Angeles, including a 6-3 record in 1985. Before Franklin, Gamboa coached at East Los Angeles College, Los Angeles City College, the National Institute of Sports in Mexico City, and Brea-Olinda High in Orange County.
But even with all that experience, jobs as an offensive or defensive coordinator--paying jobs--are not easy to come by.
"Right now I'm really more fortunate than most," Gamboa said. "My principal at Franklin has known my interest in college coaching right from the start and he changed my class schedule to allow me to get to practice on time. I have a full-time job that pays well and an understanding boss and family. What more could I ask for?"
Gamboa said his wife, Dolly, keeps his two children up at night just long enough for him to see them before they go to sleep. They also get up at 6 a.m. so they can spend a little time with dad before he has to leave for work.
Fenwick, 33, is also making sacrifices.
He left a highly successful program at Pierce to join the CSUN staff. In his five years as coach, the Brahmas were 35-18 and won three straight Southern California Conference titles. He coaches the CSUN running backs and is still a full-time teacher at Pierce.