With the surprising success of the 49ers this season, there’s been a lot of talk about the Harbaugh brothers, the roughneck Ryan twins and other siblings that roam the sidelines.
Yet San Francisco has its own prized coaching families, part of a brood so small and tight that they share the same lineage and background, a tree with roots that date back to the glory days of city sports.
And coaching is like joining a family because in most cases the bonds last beyond the last job, one that generally involves more stopovers than a cross-country Amtrak train.
Few people know this better than the group of city natives who make up the Ferrigno family, a part of the great migration to the Outer Sunset after World War II when developers were building a block of houses a month to fill the demand of the boom years.
Lou and Pat Ferrigno raised eight kids in the same house on Ulloa Street, and when they weren’t there the parents were either at a gym, a playground or a baseball diamond teaching the kids how to play ball. It was a lesson that apparently stuck — all you need is enough wall space to track their children’s playing and coaching careers.
Phil Ferrigno has been the head football coach at Lincoln High School in San Francisco for 10 years, five of which has seen his team go to the city title game, winning four of them, a city record. His stay at Lincoln has been his longest, but he also coached at his alma mater Riordan High School, at my high school Sacred Heart Cathedral, at Mission High, City College of San Francisco and San Francisco State.
And he’s one of the less-traveled ones.
“If you’re a Ferrigno you’re a coach,” he told me during practice this week. “It’s what we know. We still talk to each other every day — at least when it’s not football season.”
Just ask his brother Dan, that is, if you could find him. Dan is currently on what Phil calls the submarine (“you go down and you’re not seen for months”) as an assistant football coach at the University of Michigan after being brought there from San Diego State by new Michigan coach Brady Hoke.
“The best part of coaching is the relationships you build with your players and the life lessons it teaches you,” Dan said.
Dan was a terrific high school player at Riordan before going on to become an NCAA Division II star at San Francisco State, setting career records in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns — records that will never be broken because State dropped football long ago.
Ferrigno’s coach at S.F. State, the legendary Vic Rowen, is the dean of all football coaches in San Francisco, and if you were to shake the tree that he planted, you would be left with a host of Super Bowl coaches (Mike Holmgren, Andy Reid), longtime NFL assistants and enough major-college and big high school coaches to start a power conference.
Prior to his Michigan job, Dan spent 21 years coaching in the then-Pac-12 Conference, with more than one stint at Cal, and stopovers at Oregon, Oregon State and Southern Cal. He also coached at St. Ignatius, City College and S.F. State, naturally, because that’s what Ferrignos do.
Unless they move — which is how younger brother Bruce ended up at Novato High School, the last stop in a 32-year coaching career that included seasons at Riordan, S.F. State and Santa Rosa Junior College.
“The good thing about being a high school coach is that you always have time for your family,” Bruce told me. “And you get to teach, which is really what good coaching is all about.”
Not to be outdone, sister Francine, who was the Ferrigno in my class growing up, coached volleyball at San Marin High School for 14 years and has generally been regarded, according to Phil, as the toughest kid in the family.
“We’ve been running football all our lives,” Phil said. “I love it. I get to do something I’ve sought out all my life. I feel blessed.”
Said Dan: “When you walk on the field at Michigan with 114,000 fans, you know that this is important. This is tradition.”
Just like family.