For a man who says he'd just as soon throw himself off a tall building as call for the spotlight, Darryl Stroh manages to spend an inordinate amount of time center stage. And once there, who knows what might spew forth from his mouth in a heated rush--and whom he might offend.
He quietly claims he'd prefer to go along coaching high school football and baseball at Granada Hills High in modest anonymity, but when issues are raised and morality, discipline, working-class values, truth, motherhood, freedom and the American way are threatened, all hell breaks loose.
Here's a sampling of some of Stroh's fire-brewed comments in the past:
On coaching and discipline: "You must use discipline. I tell my players, 'It's my way or the highway.' I like kids to handle themselves with class and keep their mouths shut. As a coach, you need quality time, you can't be screwing around."
On parenting: "It would be better if people stopped patting everybody on the head and telling them how great they are all the time. Parents shouldn't try being their kids' friends. They should love them, but be firm. Kids need direction. They don't want so much a friend, they want somebody to show them the way."
On grooming and appearance: "I hate long hair."
On drug prevention: "I've taken more kids off drugs than all the English and math teachers in all of Los Angeles put together. I'd rather get a kid off drugs than win any game."
On the quality of high school coaches: "There are some coaches that I wouldn't want a son of mine to come near."
If Stroh wasn't so shy, he might not hide his convictions and sugar-coat his comments in such a drastic manner.
Of course, no one would care what the coach had to say if it wasn't for the fact that his teams win so many games. For the record, since becoming baseball coach at Granada Hills in 1970, Stroh has whipped his teams to five City Section titles. From 1964 to '84, he worked as an assistant football coach--including a two-year stint as co-coach of B teams that went 17-0. Since becoming head football coach in 1985, Stroh has rolled up a record of 24-6-1, and he will lead the Highlanders into tonight's City 4-A Division final against Carson.
Understanding Stroh and his impressive success as a coach is a complicated proposition. Depending upon what subject he's discussing, his tones vary from those of a thundering dictator to those of a tired, worn-down man who barely can take it anymore. His outward appearance, especially in the presence of his players, is unmistakenly that of a no-nonsense Herrscher who would just as soon bite your face off as look at it. And it is his focus on discipline that players past and present say is the overriding factor in Stroh's prosperity in baseball and football.
"He's tough on us," said quarterback Jeremy Leach, who has thrown for 2,492 yards and 32 touchdowns this season. "You never really hear too many good things from him. The good things you do, he expects you to do. Every once in a while, you get a compliment, but it's rare."
Said Sean Casey, a former baseball player who graduated in 1986: "I'd compare him to Mike Ditka--really calm at times, but, man, when you do something you shouldn't, he's capable of exploding."
Drop a pass, miss a tackle and Stroh's face turns cranberry red. Skip practice or disobey team rules and rapid nuclear fusion seemingly takes place in his head.
During his senior season, Casey was yanked aside, chewed out, sworn at and brought to a state of humility by a bursting Stroh all "because he thought I was getting a little cocky," Casey said. "Sometimes, everybody thinks he hates their guts. There are no individuals on his teams. You do it his way."
Yes, sir, or it's the highway.
These rules are just a part of Stroh's way: No long hair. No facial hair. No earrings. No staying out late. No wasting time. No messing up in the classroom. No drinking. No drugs. No chewing tobacco. No smoking. No back talk. No acting cocky. Above all, be good citizens and watch The Andy Griffith Show whenever possible.
"Discipline has always been important to me," Stroh said. "It's just a part of my personality. I can't stand things out of order. I can't stand chaos. I like things to run smoothly.
"I'm an imperfect perfectionist. It's difficult for me to let little things slide."
So he doesn't.
Three years ago, Stroh discovered two of his baseball players had been drinking when a bottle of cheap wine fell out of a duffel bag after a game. He required the players to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or face being kicked off the team. "It was real humiliating for them to have to go to those meetings," Stroh said. "They were embarrassed. I did it to make a point. They wanted to play, so they had to attend."