October 28, 2009 > Coaching Legend Jim Ingram
Coaching Legend Jim Ingram
By Gary van den Heuvel
An icon of high school sports in Fremont was honored Sunday, Oct. 18, on the football field he reigned over since its construction in the early 1970s.
Following a college career as a two-way lineman with Humboldt State, Jim Ingram began coaching Washington High School's football team in 1960 and, after a hiatus in the mid-'70s, returned to the position he loved in 1979. Ingram remained as the Huskies coach until his retirement after the 2002 season.
During his tenure at Washington, Ingram won 230 games and 12 Mission Valley Athletic League (MVAL) titles. He was instrumental in shaping high school football in Fremont and, on a deeper level, profoundly influenced the lives of thousands of players and students in his four decades of coaching and education.
Many of those players were in attendance at Tak Fudenna Stadium at Washington High on the partly cloudy but warm October afternoon. The idea of honoring the Fremont icon originated with one of Ingram's greatest rivals and friends, Coach Pete Michaletos of John F. Kennedy High School. Michaletos enlisted the help of two former Ingram players, Mike Jacinto (Washington class of 1972) and Bill Harrison ('88).
Jacinto and Harrison are working with the Fremont Unified School District to raise money to create a bust of Ingram which will be placed near the entrance inside the stadium. A "first draft," sculptured by Bay Area artist Gloria Nusse, was unveiled for attendees. The field house is slated to be renamed after the legendary coach.
Coach Ingram - known as "Coach I" to all who played for him or otherwise know him - was seated with his family and guest speakers on a dais placed at the midfield north sideline. The dais was decorated with star-shaped balloons colored orange and black, as well as football-designed balloons. Familiar faces from Washington High School's past mingled in the bleachers, renewing old friendships and reminiscing about old times before Coach Michaletos began the proceedings. The Kennedy coach introduced his wife Jan, who presented Ingram's wife (and close friend) Pat with a plaque of appreciation and a bouquet of flowers.
Jacinto, who starred at Cal State Hayward after his days quarterbacking for Ingram's Huskies, acted as emcee for the event, introducing each guest speaker. The first speaker was retired Army Colonel Chuck Wittebort (class of '61). Wittebort played on Ingram's first team, and admitted that the team wasn't sure what to make of their new coach at the time. After all, the team had been successful under Coach I's predecessor, a guy named Bill Walsh. Yes, that Bill Walsh.
"We thought he might be just another guy who thought he could coach," remembered Wittebort. "But Coach Ingram was just as serious about winning as Coach Walsh."
Wittebort summed up Ingram's coaching philosophy, which was echoed numerous times during the day: "Success was built around the team, not the individual; there were no prima donnas."
Leonard Fudenna, a member of the 1967 and '68 undefeated Husky teams, recalled the combative spirit Coach I instilled in his team. "He loved a good fight," said Fudenna, "even if we lost the fight."
Class of '74 alum Doug Rooney, who coaches football and baseball aside from his work in the software field and financial services, entertained the audience with his memories of Ingram's arduous training program. Remembering the two-a-day practices in the hot August sun; the off-season weightlifting program; the countless hours spent practicing; or watching film, Rooney said he often asked himself, "Why didn't I go out for golf? I probably would have been much better at golf, but not as good of a person."
The '74 team that Rooney played on was coming off an uncharacteristic losing season, having won only two games in 1973. Rooney said the team was determined to rectify that and make their coach proud. Unfortunately, the Huskies got blown out in their home opener by San Ramon, and things didn't look particularly bright, especially with powerhouse Bellarmine as their next opponent.
Rooney admitted to being in awe of the intimidating size of the Bellarmine players, including even the Bells' quarterback. Coach I sensed his team's trepidation and gave them some simple advice before the game, which included telling the team, "Boys, play like you practice."
Final score: Washington 24, Bellarmine 12. The Huskies lost only one more game in '74, finishing with a 7-2 record.
1980 alum Arnie Mozzetti was on the '79 team which Ingram returned to coach after leaving the position in '75, then missing it enough that he coached at Ohlone College and worked as an assistant at Moreau Catholic before returning to his beloved Huskies.
Mozzetti's team had been to NCS the previous year, so they weren't sure what to think of their "new" coach at first. But their initial skepticism didn't last long. Mozzetti repeated a common theme in his praise of Coach I's work ethic and the boot camp-like practices Ingram put his team through.
"What he did to us, I don't think was legal," Mozzetti recalled fondly. "The way he taught us the game, the way he taught us to run our lives - I just want to thank him for that. To be a Husky was to be part of a special breed."
David Hollingshaus ('89), whose older brothers had played for Ingram, first met Coach I in 1980, when he was the team's ball boy. Playing for Ingram became a dream for Hollingshaus from that early age.
"I loved watching the coach as he yelled at refs, or pulled a player close to his face by the facemask to give him words of 'encouragement,' " Hollingshaus said. For much of his speech, which he wrote as a letter to the coach, Hollingshaus addressed Ingram directly: "I actually enjoyed practice. It was fun. You made it fun - even when you were making fun of me, which you did occasionally."
Aaron Ingram ('91), the coach's grandson, played for Coach I and became a coach himself. He is currently the backfield coach at Sacramento State. He called his grandfather "a great communicator, a teacher who is always teaching," and thanked the coach for preparing him for life.
Lyle West ('95) is probably the most decorated of Ingram's players. After playing college ball at Chabot and San Jose State, West was drafted by the New York Giants, primarily a special teams player on the 2000 Giants team that went to the Super Bowl.
"There's an energy that Coach had that made people who'd never played football want to play for Coach I," said West.
Finally it was time for the man himself to speak. As Ingram started, the clouds seemed to open, allowing for the sun to shine through. The coach began by describing the many unsung tasks his wife Pat did in service to the team: aside from laundering the team's uniforms, she sold programs at games; typed playbooks; scouting reports and rosters; picked up game film and had it developed; and was, in Coach I's words, his "most valued assistant coach."
Ingram told of coaches he'd known who had successful football programs but left their position to coach elsewhere with less successful results. He believes it was because these coaches, regardless of how good they were at coaching, didn't fit in their new situations.
"I think I found a fit in Washington," he said. Ingram acknowledged coaches whom he admired and formed friendships with, starting with Michaletos, who has been Kennedy's coach since 1964 - the same year that school opened.
"He's the only coach they've ever known. They don't know any better," Ingram needled his friend. "He is a much better man than he is a coach," he said in a complimentary way.
Ingram explained why his offensive philosophy was to run the ball first, last and always, despite often being questioned as to why he didn't pass the ball more. Ingram reasoned that there are three things that can happen when a pass play is called, and two of them are bad: "Number one, you can complete the pass. Number two, it's incomplete. And number three, you can throw an interception. The surest way to win is to run the ball."
Harrison closed the proceedings with some words of Coach I's legacy. "Whether it is the running program, or the off-season lifting and conditioning program, there's not a program in the MVAL, and maybe not a program in Northern California, that doesn't have a piece of Jim Ingram's program in it."
Moments later, Jacinto unveiled the first draft of the bust of Ingram. After the unveiling, Ingram, who had been standing behind the bust, came around to look at the bust face-to-face, eyeing the sculpture of his trademark bald head and glasses as if it was a puzzling excerpt of game film.
Several seconds later, Coach I gave his verdict... "He needs a haircut."
The project for Coach Ingram has a budget of $18,000. To donate, make checks payable to: Washington High School Alumni Foundation (write "Coach Ingram" on the memo line), c/o Bill Harrison, 37272 Maple Street, Fremont, 94536.
Harrison can be reached at (510) 793-4323, or e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jacinto can be reached at (925) 227-8895 or email@example.com.