CONCORD, Calif. — After 399 wins, 20 unbeaten seasons and countless championships in 34 years, Bob Ladouceur’s run as De La Salle High’s head football coach is over.
California’s all-time winningest coach is ready for somebody else to take the reins of the program that he built into a national power. Justin Alumbaugh, an assistant and former player under Ladouceur, is that guy.
Ladouceur wore his classic stoic look as Principal Brother Robert J. Wickman delivered the news to a large audience gathered at the school’s theater Friday.
“It was more important for me for the program to remain strong than for me to hang on a few more years and coach,” Ladouceur said. “I was kind of getting tired and I just didn’t think it was fair to (Alumbaugh) to be basically doing most of the work and not being the head coach.”
Ladouceur isn’t leaving the school or program completely. He will continue to teach religious studies and plans to coach in some capacity. His new role isn’t fully defined yet, but Ladouceur said he’ll likely be working with the lower level programs as well as the varsity team.
“I’m going to allow Justin to have all the autonomy, I don’t want to be looking over his shoulder,” said Ladouceur, who received a long standing ovation before and after he took the podium to address current and former players, faculty, family and media members. “He is in complete control of this program.”
The rest of the varsity staff will remain intact, including defensive coordinator Terry Eidson, who Ladouceur often refers to as his co-head coach.
Ladouceur, 58, is best known for guiding the Spartans on a national record 151-game winning streak from 1992-2003. His teams have won 28 North Coast Section titles, five CIF state championships (since 2006) and have finished No. 1 in various national rankings at least seven times.
He leaves with an overall record of 399-25-3.
His team holds the national record with a 151-game winning streak spanning from 1992 to 2004, more than doubling the previous record of 72. The streak ended when De La Salle was defeated by Bellevue High School in Bellevue on Sept. 4, 2004.
Nine of his former players went on to play in the NFL, including Maurice Jones-Drew and Amani Toomer.
When asked about the highlights of his legendary career, none of those achievements came up.
“The high points are all the relationships I’ve developed with the coaches that I work with. They are my best friends,” Ladouceur said.
So it’s no real surprise that Ladouceur ends his career one win shy of 400 — a milestone never reached by a California coach.
Alumbaugh called it “almost poetic” that Ladouceur would retire on that number.
“It just hasn’t been something I’ve chased,” Ladouceur said of reaching 400 wins. “To stay on to try to reach 400 wins I thought would be kind of a lame thing to do. … What difference does one more win make?”
Then Ladouceur flashed the dry humor that players say make him so endearing.
“I understand the number (399) has some kind of weirdness to it,” Ladouceur continued. “Maybe way down the road they’ll think I died midseason.”
For Ladouceur, the timing was just right.
He said he made the decision that this year would be his last before the season began but kept it to himself. Alumbaugh said Ladouceur told the varsity assistants of his plans the night before the Spartans beat Centennial-Corona 48-28 to wrap up a 15-0 season and fourth consecutive Open Division state title.
“I didn’t want to make it a cheesy motivation thing for our team this year,” Ladouceur said. “I didn’t want to make (my last year) be a precursor to what these guys were going to do. I’ve always approached it that way, I want their seasons to be their own.”
Alumbaugh, 33, has been considered Ladouceur’s heir apparent for years.
A tight end and linebacker who could memorize a scouting report in a matter of minutes, Alumbaugh began coaching only a few months after graduating from De La Salle while still getting his degree at UCLA.
“It’s daunting, there’s no doubt about it, but I’m coming into one of the greatest positions around,” Alumbaugh said of following Ladouceur. “There’s no other place I’d ever want to be, there’s no other place I belong.”
Alumbaugh is confident but also is aware of the gigantic shoes he must fill.
So is everyone else.
“Trying to follow Saint Lad,” Eidson joked. “Good luck to Justin on that.”