John Madden. Dick Vermeil. Bill Walsh.
Between them, they own five Super Bowl rings (not to mention an iconic video game franchise) and are among the most revered coaches in NFL history. But before they were patrolling the sidelines in pursuit of professional championships, each got their break at the College of San Mateo.
Madden and Walsh were Bulldogs players in the early 1950s, while Vermeil was an assistant coach in the mid-1960s. They are the three most prominent names to come out of a football program that has produced successful teams and top coaching talent since its inception in 1922.
“I’m sure when they first started, they were only dreaming about doing those kinds of things,” said Larry Owens, the current face of the program who is now in his 18th year as coach of the Bulldogs. “But once people go through here and have that type of success, it just grows.”
Owens has presided over the Bulldogs’ most recent run of sustained excellence, not that the affable coach himself has been keeping track. The 51-year-old just earned his 100th victory at the school when CSM beat American River 34-14 in the season opener, but wasn’t aware of the milestone until he was informed of it by reporters after the game. He said his best single-season record at the school was 10-1, but couldn’t remember the year.
While some of the statistical details escape him, he was more than able to spin through his “mental Rolodex” and recall the names and faces of the many players who turned their lives around by the time their two-year stay at the school was over.
“I can honestly say I didn’t get in this job for the wins and losses,” Owens said. “I got into it for the people and to work with these kids.”
Owens consistently sends more than 10 players on to four-year programs every season and has gone 49-19 over the past six years, more than weathering a transition three years ago into the NorCal Conference — considered by many to be the most difficult league in the nation.
Junior college football historian Fred Baer, who started working at CSM in 1964, said another high-water mark for the program came under coach Doug Scovil in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The stretch was highlighted by a Big 8 Conference championship team in 1961 that went 9-1 and defeated Allan Hancock of Santa Maria (where Madden was an assistant) in the Prune Bowl.
Scovil left in 1963 to become the backfield and quarterbacks coach at Navy, where he tutored Roger Staubach — who fittingly became the first junior college transfer to win the Heisman Trophy.
The old legends might not even recognize the campus should they come back now, however. Under Owens, the roster has increased to 110 players hungry for playing time and the team competes on an $8.5 million field that opened in 2005. Not bad for a program that started out sharing facilities with San Mateo High School.
“It’s not only important to the student body, but also allows us to connect with the community,” CSM athletic director Andreas Wolf said of the program’s status. “It’s kind of a window into the school and shows people what we do here.”
» Football program: Began in 1922
» Coach: Larry Owens, 18th year
» Notable former coaches: Dick Vermeil
» Notable former players: John Madden, Bill Walsh, Walt Harris (ex-Stanford coach)
» Current NFL player: Washington Redskins defensive tackle Ryan Boschetti
» On the Web: www.gocsm.net/football
Junior colleges such as CCSF and CSM offer a path to better opportunities for football players.
» TODAY: The history behind CCSF and CSM
» TUESDAY: Junior college provides second chances
» WEDNESDAY: Plethora of teams means state stands alone
» THURSDAY: How do the big boys use jucos?
» FRIDAY: Making it all the way to the NFL