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Neil Hayes: De La Salle's Ladouceur Was Never About the Numbers

A former Contra Costa Times sportswriter and author of a book on the De La Salle High football program reflects on Bob Ladouceur's retirement.

It has never been about wins for Bob Ladouceur, even though that’s what the legendary De La Salle High School football coach will be remembered for most, at least to outsiders. 

The typical NFL fan may never have heard of Ladouceur but his body of work is as impressive as anyone who has ever coached the game on any level. The man who won 399 games in 34 years and had more California North Coast Section titles (28) than individual losses (25) announced his retirement at a press conference Friday packed with former players, fellow coaches and old friends. The announcement came less than a month after the Spartans won their fourth straight California open division state championship.

Ladouceur is best known for his team’s 151-game winning streak from 1992 through 2004, but those who played for him know it was never about winning or numbers for “Lad.” He proved that by retiring with 399 career victories, which his successor, former player Justin Alumbaugh, described as “almost poetic.” For Ladouceur, reaching the 400-win milestone was meaningless.

“Kids respect true humility and that you stand for something more than winning,” Ladouceur once said while describing his coaching philosophy. “They’ll fight for you and your program if you stand for more than that. It boils down to what you believe in as a person, and I’m talking about how life should be lived and people should be treated. Kids see all that. It’s a whole package of things that have nothing to do with standing in front of a team with a piece of chalk. You can know who to block and what play to call, but it has no meaning unless the kids know who (begin ital) you (end ital) are. Our kids aren’t fighting for wins. They’re fighting for a belief in what we stand for.”

Neil Hayes, a Chicago Sun-Times sportswriter, is the author of When the Game Stands Tall: The Story of the De La Salle Spartans and Football’s Longest Winning Streak, which inspired a movie starring Jim Caviezel that will begin filming this spring.

Jack Weir January 07, 2013 at 05:55 PM
My son played for Lad when Neal was writing his book, and we both often attended practice sessions. Neal saw first hand what it really takes to play for DLS - countless hours of grueling drills and conditioning exercises. On many occasions I watched that training make the difference playing against supposedly more talented teams. It wasn't the win numbers that motivated those kids to bust their butts, and to have fun in the process. Putting on a DLS jersey didn't win games; commitment did.
Tom January 07, 2013 at 10:12 PM
I agree with Jack but have a different take. Why in the world is it so important to win HS football games? I know many current and former DLS kids and they are good kids and most are also good students but I have never understood why ANY sport could be that important.
jim January 08, 2013 at 08:10 AM
it feels good to win- much better than losing. It is a reflection of the hard work put in and is the reward for being good. It is not life or death, but very little really is. My view is, if you are going to do something, then give it your all. If that causes you to win- so be it. If not- then at least you gave it your all. In DLS case, just very impressive that kids can operate at such a high level and play the top talent in the country and compete-- congrats to a great program. If you ever played in a freiendly game of baseball, a pick up basketball game or a Thanksgiving Day football game-- you know why it is important to win-- because you dont want to loose- you dont plan on loosing and you dont practice to loose. That attitude will carryover into the balance of these kids lives and make them more successful at whatever they do in the future...
Bill January 09, 2013 at 06:21 PM
Would like to think committing to win, with integrity, does carryover for more than just DLS winners. But I doubt it's more important than kids having positive role models in many, if not all aspects of their lives. Sometimes it's a coach, sometimes it's a dance teacher, sometimes it's a parent...or, even better, sometimes all 3.

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