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Coach Is Disciple of Discipline, Defense : El Camino Mentor in 'Class by Himself' in Community College Ranks

February 14, 1988|PAUL McLEOD | Times Staff Writer

Inside the spacious North Gymnasium at El Camino College, away from the hazy warmth of a February afternoon in Southern California, the Gardena man whose career is built on the "double D's" of basketball drilled his sweaty troops on a new passing game.

Paul Landreaux wore no whistle. "(I) never do," said the Warrior basketball coach. Discipline, the first "D," can be demonstrated inherently by tone of voice, he explained.

Defense, the second principle in a philosophy that has won more than 270 games in roughly 10 years, was readily apparent: The blue-clad starting unit had difficulty getting a basket against the gray-shirted reserves.

Landreaux was born to coach.

"Sometimes I feel that this was what they put me on earth to do," he said.

Competing coaches often remark that the second team at El Camino could very easily be ranked in the state's top 10 in any given year.

Some of basketball's best minds have marveled at his ideas. Jerry Tarkanian of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas has, at times, flown the El Camino coach to Nevada to teach the Runnin' Rebels about defense.

Twice, teams he has coached shut out opponents for an entire 20-minute half. El Camino once held an opponent to nine points in a game.

Only 44 years old, Landreaux has distinguished himself at El Camino with a litany of achievement awards and nine seasons with 20-plus-wins. He has captured two state championships, one of only four men in the history of community college basketball in California to have done that. He is expected, should he remain at the school, to win more state titles. Only his good friend and former mentor, Tarkanian, who won four at Pasadena and Riverside city colleges in the mid-1960s, has done better.

"He is in a class by himself," said Cypress College Coach Don Johnson, one of the other two-time state titleholders.

In his own gym, wearing jeans and a polo shirt, Landreaux stood on the base line, hands in pockets, a white roadster cap covering his curly black hair. He did not raise his voice, yet his players stood riveted when he gave instructions.

Landreaux is known as an excellent teacher, a communicator who believes that it is just as important to teach the principles of life as it is to teach how to win.

Said Roland H'Orvath, a starting forward at the University of Santa Clara who starred at El Camino two years ago: "He looks at you not as basketball players, but as people. He teaches you that there is more to life than basketball. . . He tells you that basketball will help you learn to accept responsibility in life and not put it onto others."

Landreaux has been a father figure to many players, an attitude he imparts because "I have this gut-wrenching feeling that my kids love me."

Guard Marc Wade, who went from El Camino to Nevada-Las Vegas, sent Landreaux a Christmas card recently. A written note on it ended: "The things I learned from you were minimal compared to the things you showed me about life." The card still hangs on the wall in Landreaux's tiny campus office along with dozens of pictures and postcards from former players with similar messages.

"He's an outstanding coach and a fine person," said Santa Monica Coach John McMullen, a longtime Landreaux rival.

Those who play for him learn to live by his rules or find another place to play, because the disciplinarian in him seldom bends. Earlier this season, he removed two key players from his team, including one--Charles White, a potential state player of the year, who has signed with Purdue--because they were involved in a brawl at the end of a game the Warriors easily won. He stressed that no player is above Landreaux law when it comes to discipline.

Eventually the players were reinstated, but not before they apologized to the opposing team.

"Sometimes you have to bend a little," acknowledged Torrance High School Coach Carl Strong, an assistant under Landreaux in his early years at El Camino. "(Yet, his priorities are) established. That's a quality I admire in him."

Landreaux's swift decision--he removed the players moments after the game ended--is the reason that players at El Camino are so highly regarded by four-year schools.

More than 95% of all Landreaux's athletes have gone on to careers at four-year schools, a statistic that the coach--who has received press criticism for not paying enough attention to other vital statistics--is proud of.

The No. 1 question that has dogged him over the years, however, is why, if he is such a successful coach, has he not been hired by a four-year college? It is something Landreaux cannot explain.

"When I sit back and look at all the things I've done, sure I wonder," he said. "People come up to me and wonder. I have no answer."

Even his co-workers wonder.

"It also surprises me," said James Schwartz of El Camino, Landreaux's boss. "They are overlooking a really talented person. He could go to UCLA or USC or anywhere, and he would be successful."

Strong recognized Division 1 potential immediately when Landreaux came to the school.

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