On the sideline, he is sometimes stamping, often scowling, occasionally swearing and always demanding. Even at 82 years old, Lowell soccer coach Ernie Feibusch hasn’t slowed down a bit.
His competitive streak even makes appearances on Sunday mornings at the small-sided games he organizes for a group of friends, alumni and former players. And if you think Feibusch just stands on the sideline with a whistle in his mouth, you obviously don’t know the curmudgeonly coaching legend.
“I’m in reasonable shape and can certainly still pass, shoot and cross the ball,” Feibusch said. “I’m still a desirable commodity out there.”
The same could be said for his role as the leader of Lowell soccer, where Feibusch has worn out the grass of the field that bears his name for more than 40 years. He started coaching the Cardinals boys’ team in 1966 and began the girls’ program in 1994 after helping create girls’ soccer in the Academic Athletic Association that year. He has led the boys to a 382-256-132 record and five league crowns and has compiled an astounding 204-39-17 mark with the girls, including 12 AAA titles.
Today, the Lowell girls will begin their quest to win their seventh Transbay Series and earn the trophy named after their coach — the Feibusch Cup — when they play at Oakland Section champion Oakland Tech at 3:30 p.m.
Feibusch, who was elected to the United States Soccer Hall of Fame in 1984, said the soccer field still serves as his Fountain of Youth.
“I remember when I was at the old Polytechnic High, my California history teacher told us, ‘You know what keeps me young? Being around young people,’” Feibusch said. “I was just a 15-year-old punk then and didn’t understand what she was talking about. But now I do.”
Feibusch is a living history of San Francisco soccer, having played and coached in various leagues since prior to World War II. He was born near Berlin, Germany, but his Jewish father and the rest of the family fled for San Francisco when Feibusch was 12 to escape Adolf Hitler’s persecution. He was back in Europe six years later, serving as an aerial gunner in the Army, and was shot down near Switzerland on his 25th mission. He escaped injury and later was stationed in London, where he helped with German translation and learned the 4-3-3 soccer system and defensive style that has provided the foundation of Cardinals soccer all these years. And he cultivated the no-nonsense, old-school manner that initially ruffles feathers but is ultimately appreciated by his players.
“At times, he’s a little harsh, but you learn to love him,” said Lowell senior star Erica Wheeler-Dubin, the AAA’s Midfielder of the Year. “And he’s coached so long, he’s really so knowledgeable about the game. We all respect him.”
He’s also earned the admiration of his adversaries. Bob Gamino, the O’Connell coach who has gone head-to-head against Feibusch for the past nine years, calls him “a wise, old guy.”
“His strengths are really everything as a coach,” Gamino said. “He has all the experience, is a great innovator and no one can counterattack like Ernie’s teams. He’s a mentor of mine — the old man at the top.”
And it doesn’t appear Feibusch has any intentions of stepping down any time soon.
“I wouldn’t even hazard a guess as to how many games I’ve coached,” Feibusch said. “And they’re gonna have to scrape me off the field.”
Feibusch at Lowell
Boys’ record: 382-256-132 (41 years)
Girls’ record: 204-39-17 (14 years)
League championships: 17 (five boys, 12 girls)
Transbay titles: Nine (three boys, six girls)
Lowell (18-3) vs. Oakland Tech
Game 1: Today at Oakland Tech, 3:30 p.m.
Game 2: Monday at Boxer Stadium, 3:30 p.m.
Game 3: Thursday at Oakland Tech, 3:30 p.m.*
* if necessary