Justin Alumbaugh, a 1998 De La Salle graduate and assistant coach, left, will take over for famed coach Bob Ladouceur.
Michele Jurich/ThE CATHOLIC VOICE
De La Salle football turns a page in its storied playbook
In the end, everyone agreed, Bob Ladouceur's career has not been all about numbers.
Even if those numbers were as impressive as they come in high school football: 399 wins, 25 losses, 3 ties. Add to that 29 North Coast Section titles and five state championships. And the national winning streak record of 151 games.
The words the De La Salle High School principal, assistant coaches, players and even the media who have followed his 34-year career used instead were honor, commitment, excellence.
At a Jan. 4 press conference at the Concord school, Brother Robert Wickman, FSC, announced Ladouceur was "stepping away" from the head coaching job. Brother Wickman said that Justin Alumbaugh, a 1998 De La Salle graduate and assistant coach, would become head coach.
That the stepping away comes with 399 wins raised a few eyebrows among the sports media, who crowded into the auditorium with cameras and microphones to record the changing of the guard. Why not continue coaching to reach a milestone of 400 wins?
To the former head coach, it was not an issue. "Numbers don't mean much," he said.
What did mean much, Ladouceur said, was being able to hand the program off to a former student.
"When I have a student who chooses to go into education," he said, "it's a proud moment."
What Ladouceur was not stepping away from is his role as religious education teacher at the all-boys high school. He said he will also have a football presence. "I'll still be involved in some capacity in the program," he said, "probably mentoring younger teams."
"Throughout my career I've often heard that I coach with an unfair advantage," Ladouceur said. "That is true. My advantage is working at a school that is grounded in the tradition and philosophy of its founder, St. John Baptiste LaSalle.
"The most important aspect of this tradition is the understanding that every student must take personal responsibility for building community, inside and outside the school."
When asked whether he had considered coaching at the college level, Ladouceur said no.
"I always wanted to work with kids," he said. "There's a special innocence to kids, and a thirst to become somebody."
The admiration of the De La Salle community was apparent in the principal's remarks.
"The high number of wins do not constitute the whole, or even the summit, of the story," Brother Wickman said. "Coach Ladouceur is rightly hailed for his technical knowledge of the sport and his strategic mind in developing game plans."
But his impact on students went beyond that. "Success cannot only be measured by the scoreboard but by the fact that he has taught, even inspired, young men to learn about the rhythms that make for a successful life, a life of meaning, a life of service," Brother Wickman said
"Whether that inspiration comes on the field or in the classroom, the same message is delivered."
Ladouceur thanked the school community and his coaches, and saved some high praise for his former students and athletes.
"It was their hard work and dedication that inspired me to turn around and work just as hard for them. They are the ones who made it so much more than football. To witness their growth as individuals and strength of team surpassed my wildest dreams. It was everything any coach could ever hope for."
Rows of De La Salle athletes filled seats in the auditorium rising to give their coach a standing ovation.
"It was an honor to play for Coach Ladouceur," said Andrew Buckley, a member of the 2012 football team who will go on to play baseball at Cal next year. Buckley was seated at the press conference with his teammates Zach Stratton and Mario Magana.
In the back of the room parents of players gathered at the end of the press conference.
"It's been an incredible experience," said Kriste Buckley, whose two sons have played football at De La Salle. "So much more beyond football."
"The morals and values coach has instilled," she said, have helped her sons "to become the men they have become."
That those life lessons have staying power was echoed by Joe Starkey, veteran sports announcer and voice of the Golden Bears football. Starkey said his son, Jim, who is now in his 40s, had played on three undefeated De La Salle football teams coached by Ladouceur. What he learned from Ladouceur, both on the field and in the classroom, Starkey, said, are "the values he follows all his life."