It’s not often that a person has the opportunity to stay in one place for more than three decades and continue to move forward. The storied career of De La Salle High School’s former head football coach and teacher Bob Ladouceur tells such a tale. With a mix of grace, humility and record-smashing success, Ladouceur has embraced his Lasallian calling to become one of the most notable names in American athletics.
Ladouceur has been widely hailed for his feats as a football coach. From 1979 until his retirement as head coach this year, he compiled a record of 399 wins, 25 losses and 3 ties, 28 North Coast Section titles and multiple state titles, establishing the Spartans as a perennial powerhouse. After such a remarkable career, Ladouceur is often asked how he has been able to achieve success for so long.
“The only analogy I can make is like cooking up a killer stew,” he said. “There’s a ton of ingredients that go into it to make it taste good and make it work.”
Assembling winning teams for 34 straight years might seem like a tall order, but you have to look beyond touchdowns and victories to see the true story behind the legacy of Bob Ladouceur.
When the Game Stands Tall, a major motion picture based on the true story of Ladouceur's 151-game winning streak as coach of the De La Salle High School football team, premiered in August 2014.
Part of that story goes back to Saint Mary’s College. In his early 20s while he was working at Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall, Ladouceur decided to enroll in continuing education classes in Theology and Religious Studies at Saint Mary’s, mainly to stay busy, as he put it.
While his decision to come to Saint Mary’s began simply enough, the Lasallian lessons he picked up during his master’s program in Moraga would prove to be an inspiration throughout his life.
“I got more out of it than I anticipated,” said Ladouceur. “It taught me how to learn. That’s what helped me get my foot in the door at De La Salle.”
Saint Mary’s own Brother Michael Meister, the high school’s head principal at the time, fondly remembers hiring a young Ladouceur.
“We were looking for someone who would bring the spirit and the mission of the Brothers to everything, including athletics,” said Meister.
Ladouceur knew from day one that De La Salle would be the perfect fit.
“When I finished my last interview with Brother Michael Meister, he didn’t ask me one football question; he asked me about my professors at Saint Mary’s,” Ladouceur explained. “The irony of being hired at De La Salle was I don’t think the Brothers were interested in me as a football coach that much.”
Meister knew Ladouceur would bring more than just a fresh face to the Spartans. “He right away brought a new spirit to the team,” said Meister. “It was amazing how he just took off.”
Brother Robert Wickman, De La Salle’s current principal, who also served in the same position from 1994 to 1998, has seen Ladouceur’s character shine through over the years.
“He really zeroes in on what’s unique and precious in each person he works with,” said Wickman. “It’s a very rare gift.”
Before reaching high school coaching fame, Ladouceur had some learning to do himself.
“I was in the religious studies department full time and had never been in the classroom before. It was really difficult for the first four or five years,” said Ladouceur. “I was young and energetic, though, and could pour myself into the job.”
The Lasallian lessons he learned helped, too. Ladouceur walked across his office and picked up a framed copy of an 18th century Christian Brothers document, the “Twelve Virtues of a Good Teacher.” These twelve qualities—gravity, silence, humility, prudence, wisdom, patience, reserve, gentleness, zeal, vigilance, piety and generosity—have remained close to his heart on the gridiron and in the classroom.
Though he was routinely tested throughout his career, Ladouceur never seemed fazed by the pressure.
“Nobody could put any more pressure on me than I could put on myself,” he said. “I already demanded and expected a lot from myself right from the first day I got here, and that never changed.”
The stakes were never higher than in 1998, when Northern California was pitted against Southern California. De La Salle was set to square off with powerhouse Mater Dei in Anaheim, and the players were ready to prove what Ladouceur preached.
“Nobody had any respect for Northern California football or for us. It was just expected that we were going to go down there and just get spanked and sent home,” said Ladouceur. “When we won that game, it established us as legitimate and we got respect. We became California’s team and it stayed that way. I am very proud of that.”
It was only one win, but it was a critical turning point. Over 12 perfect seasons, De La Salle won 151 consecutive football games under Ladouceur, earning a place in high school football folklore. Reaching such a record fueled a media craze, but Ladouceur kept his sense of perspective.
“I really felt like I didn’t have to win or lose here. My success at the school wasn’t going to be based on my coaching record. I liked that.”
Ladouceur’s humility had a profound impact not only on his career, but in the hearts of the many young men under his leadership.
Garrett Biel ’09 said that “Coach Lad,” as he is affectionately known to his players, “led by example” both as a coach and a person. “His humility after all of his success made us feel that we were not playing to break records or win championships but carrying on a long tradition of brotherhood and hard work.”
Brotherhood has become a defining term for the program, something that Blair Wishom ’09 has carried with him to college football at Northern Arizona University.
“As a coach he pushed us to strive to achieve our potential every practice and game,” Wishom said. “He had a way of making young adults hold themselves, along with their teammates, accountable for their actions on and off the field.”
Although Ladouceur will no longer be the head football coach at De La Salle, he will continue to guide all Spartans in the right direction.
Brother Robert Wickman expects nothing less.
“His pursuit of excellence in how he teaches and how he coaches is rooted in an image he has that God gives everyone grace and gifts.”
-Dan Murphy ’13, De La Salle High School ’09