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A Coaches' Team : Carson's Vollnogle Makes Prep Football Stuff of Legend

December 17, 1987|ADAM MARTIN

One Sunday evening in the early 1980s, Gene Vollnogle was contemplating what it would it be like to coach football at Long Beach State.

"So we (Vollnogle and assistant Paul Huebner) got to thinking about it," said Vollnogle, Carson High School's football coach, "and we decided we'd put in for the job. On Sunday we were trying to figure out who we wanted as coaches and Monday morning they announced that they had hired somebody new."

It wasn't Vollnogle.

"That didn't bother me whatsoever," Vollnogle said, looking back. "The real coaching is done in high school. College football is mostly recruiting, and I would never want to do that. I want kids to come to me and want to play for me. I don't want to go get them."

The record shows that Vollnogle considered coaching at Harbor College in the late 1950s. But had he been hired, Carson might not have won 201 games and lost 61 since 1963, the year the school opened and the year a local legend began.

Vollnogle, the winningest coach in the history of California prep football, is the Tom Landry of the high school ranks. He is the only coach the Colts ever had. Landry, of course, still leads the Dallas Cowboys, but his team has faded like the Old West.

Vollnogle has rounded up eight career City section 4-A titles, and his team is favored to lasso another against Granada Hills (8-3) on Friday at East L.A. College.

People expect the Colts--who are ranked No. 2 nationally by USA Today--to ease past the Highlanders, since Carson dumped Granada Hills, 42-14, in October. Speed, strength, ability, discipline--they're all in Carson's favor.

Carson (11-0) wins so consistently that one might think Vollnogle does recruit. But it was coaching, not talent, that cut down the Highlanders last time. And at a school that has produced 306 All-Pacific League and 136 All-City players in 24 years, the Carson coaches clearly play a dominant role.

"I like our program, I like our coaches," said senior receiver John Lark. "They are trying to make me as good a player as I can be and that's all I can ask."

"The coaches look at the kind of player you are, and they want to place you where you can do your best," said quarterback George Malauulu.

Lark's and Malauulu's comments may seem obvious, but this doesn't detract from their coaches' ability.

In the Colts' victory over Granada Hills, a well-taught defensive unit recovered a fumble, intercepted a pass and put the Highlanders in a 14-0 hole in less than four minutes during the second quarter.

"We knew what they were going to do, and that's why we scored on defense," said Carson defensive coordinator Jim D'Amore. "Granada Hills might think those were breaks in the game, but those were coaching things. We told our kids something might happen and it did."

With four staff coaches and seven volunteers, the Carson brain trust often tells its players what opponents will do.

Until this season Banning High had the only program in the City section that rivaled Carson. After winning the 1985 city championship, Banning's system dissolved when Coach Chris Ferragamo left before this season started.

Now the Pilots, who finished at 6-4, are rebuilding, something Vollnogle rarely thinks about.

"New coaches are bad for football," he said. "It's the turnover. Banning was so good for so many years, and now look at the problems they have. When you flip-flop coaches, it screws things up. I really think it's important to have the same coaches around for a long time."

Vollnogle has maintained most of his current staff since 1980. Loyalty to a winning program is the key.

When Ferragamo moved to Harbor College he phoned Vollnogle, hoping to lure a Carson coach to Harbor. Vollnogle told Ferragamo he could talk to all of the Carson coaches. Vollnogle also told him that none of Carson's coaches would want to leave. Not one left.

Most have stayed with Vollnogle for extended periods, and each year those who played for Vollnogle return to volunteer.

Huebner coached with Vollnogle at Banning from 1958 to 1963, rejoined Vollnogle at Carson in 1969, and remained until 1981. D'Amore has been at Carson since 1973. Offensive line coach Saul Pacheco began in 1964 and moved up to the varsity level in 1979.

In his second season at Carson, defensive line coach Marty Blankenship, a 1967 graduate of the school, actually yields in years at Carson to several volunteer coaches who also played for Vollnogle. Blankenship, 38, coached seven years at Banning, but "I'm sure I'll probably still be at Carson 20 years from now," he said.

Volunteer linebacker coach Willie Guillory, a member of Carson's 1971 championship team, also may still be at Carson into the 21st Century.

For four years, Guillory has logged 15 to 20 hours a week with the team in addition to his school security duties. He is sure that a program designed by experienced coaches keys Carson's success.

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