The City College of San Francisco athletics community is reeling after the sudden death of John Balano, the strength and conditioning coach for every sport in the department for the last 17 years.
Described as a larger than life figure — both physically and in spirit, according to former football coach George Rush — Balano passed away on campus on Saturday. He was 62.
Balano developed the RAM Strength and Conditioning Program to help athletes avoid injury, eat properly and rehab. He was responsible for the growth of thousands of athletes at the junior college known for its impressive performance on the field.
Rush hired Balano in 2001 to be a defensive-line coach in addition to overseeing the strength and conditioning program. That year, Balano would help coach the first of his four national championship teams.
“He was excellent and great on the field as a position coach,” Rush said. “It’s a tremendous loss for our college and our community. He’s irreplaceable. He really is. He’s one in a million.”
Balano was also a force as a member of the physical education department. He wrote more than a dozen classes, which were added to the curriculum. Before the 2012 school year, Balano partnered with the CCSF Administration of Justice and Fire Science Department to create a course to prepare future first responders for the physical exams they would face in the hiring process.
The Firefighting/Public Safety Conditioning class is one of the most popular classes in the PE department, according to CCSF’s athletic department.
Chancellor Mark Rocha issued a statement on Monday to announce Balano’s passing, and plans for an event near commencement to “memorialize all of our passages during the year as well as to commemorate our retirements, tenure and promotions and new faculty and staff, among others.”
“None of us will escape the toll of the years but all of us must remain within the memory of the City College family,” Rocha said in the written statement.
Jimmy Collins, current football head coach and former player under Balano, described him as generous and kind-hearted to go along with his tough persona. Balano and Collins were regularly the last two people to leave campus, talking on the way to their cars.
Last week, Balano came into Collins’ office and sat on his couch for 45 minutes as the now peers talked about “anything and everything.”
“He was a tremendous coach, but to me he was so much more: He was a friend and a mentor,” Collins said Monday. “I’ll really cherish him, because he was so unique.”
Rush described Balano as a tireless worker who cared deeply about his students and student-athletes. He could’ve had the same job at a major university or pro-sports team, Rush said, but was committed to CCSF.
“I can’t emphasize how bright and intelligent of a person he was,” Rush said. “He was perceptive and exceptional. I’ve met a lot of people in my day in athletics, and he’s right at the top of my list for being smart and knowing the applications to make it work.
“We’re just in shock.”