Ray Rosso, Orange Coast College's first football coach who was a revered teacher and coach of several sports at the school, died Saturday of natural causes at his home in Newport Beach. He was 96.
Rosso, who guided OCC to a 37-38-3 record in eight football seasons from 1948 through 1955, taught physical education at the school until his retirement in 1984. A resident of Costa Mesa and Lido Isle, Rosso also coached tennis, golf and sailing at OCC.
"He was a wonderful man with a great sense of humor," said George Mattias, a former OCC football assistant football coach who also coached tennis at the school. "I don't know anyone who didn't like Ray a great deal."
Former OCC football coach Dick Tucker said Rosso was a talented teacher, a fine athlete and a super friendly guy with whom everyone liked to associate.
Bob Wetzel, a former basketball and volleyball coach at OCC who shared an office with Rosso for 12 years, said he would often find diagrams of basketball plays in his file cabinet with a written note: "Wetz, try this," or a comment scribbled on the office chalkboard the day after a basketball game, ribbing Wetzel about his banter with game officials the night before.
"I didn't find some of those diagramed plays for years, but they were there," Wetzel said.
Former OCC Athletic Director Fred Hokanson said Rosso loved a good practical joke.
"He was a person that loved to have a good time," Hokanson said. "The students liked him and the athletes liked him. He used to have like a cult following of students who signed up for all his classes. He was a good teacher who loved teaching."
Rosso, who was born in Turan, Italy and grew up in Lafayette, Calif, near Oakland, played football at UC Berkeley, where his team won the 1938 Rose Bowl, 13-0, over Alabama. He was an All-Pacific Coast honoree as a 185-pound offensive guard as a senior in 1939, and also kicked field goals for the Golden Bears.
In two seasons as head coach at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga, his teams won conference titles in 1946 and 1947. He guided Chaffey to victory in the 1947 Junior Rose Bowl.
His coaching tenure at OCC included a conference championship in 1951 and the opening of the school's stadium, known now as LeBard Stadium, for the 1955 season. Rosso had input on the stadium's design.
He remained very active after his retirement, often working out in the OCC strength lab, where former Pirates football coach Bill Workman said he grew to know and admire him.
"He was totally honest and super friendly to everyone," said Tucker, who also shared an office with Rosso. "I can't say enough good things about him."
Rosso, a Navy fighter pilot and flight instructor in WWII, was married for more than 69 years to his wife Jean, who died in April.
Rosso is survived by children Tina, David and Bob, grandchildren Jessica, Jen, Ben, Kate and Stephen, two great grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.
Bob Rosso, who said his father died peacefully in his sleep, said funeral arrangements are pending.