Steve Landress is still a driven football coach.
He just doesn’t have to go as far.
For five years, Landress was co-coach at Manual Arts High. His daily commute took him from his home in Arleta to South Central Los Angeles, an hour drive each direction in favorable traffic conditions.
Landress figures he spent at least 400 hours a school year in the commute. That’s roughly 60 working days devoted to the freeways.
The long haul is over. One of five new coaches at Valley high schools, Landress is working closer to home as head of the football program at Cleveland High, his alma mater.
The other four coaches are Darryl Stroh at Granada Hills, Tom West at Royal, Bill Foster at Grant and Bill Redell at Crespi.
For Landress, it was an even trade--football for family--and a no-lose situation.
He didn’t give up on the game of football. He just came home.
“I’ve lived in the Valley all my life,” Landress said. “I always wanted to get back to Cleveland. It’s nice to come back home.”
There were good times at Manual Arts, too. Helped by co-coach Jeff Engilman, Landress won successive City 3-A titles in 1983 and 1984.
Yet even in victory, something was missing.
“I’d come back to my old hang-outs in the Valley after a game to celebrate, and I’d see my friends, but they wouldn’t know what the score was or be able to enjoy it with me,” Landress said.
Landress thinks he has found happiness--on and off the field--at Cleveland.
He played for the Cavaliers under Arnie Lechman from 1965 to 1967, and served as an assistant coach from 1977 to 1979.
“I love the school,” Landress said.
The transition from Manual Arts was not an easy one. He and the Toilers had a loyal following.
Landress left it that way, avoiding the temptation to bring Manual Arts transfers with him to Cleveland through busing programs. There is only one transfer at Cleveland this year: 6-3, 245-pound lineman Dan Anderson from Hawthorne.
“Everybody asks, but I didn’t make any inquiries about kids transferring,” Landress said. “The coaches at Manual Arts are my friends. I wouldn’t do that to another coach and I wouldn’t want to have it done to me.
“None of the players asked me either. I think that showed a lot of quality and class on their part. Of course, if they want to come to Cleveland, I wouldn’t oppose their transfer.”
Landress therefore begins a rebuilding program at Cleveland on his own. At one point, it looked like he would be teaming with Engilman again after his former co-coach was dismissed from Grant for allegedly drawing female genitalia on a tackling dummy.
But the reunion fell through when a Los Angeles Unified School District official told Engilman not to pursue a coaching job this year. Engilman briefly worked with Landress at Cleveland after being fired at Grant.
“It was a setback, sure,” Landress said. “But that’s not an excuse for us anymore.”
Landress is concerned only with results as he prepares for Cleveland’s season-opener against Chatsworth. With the Cavaliers coming off a 2-8 season, he does not expect a miracle turnaround. Nor is he giving up hope.
“We want to win, and I think we’ll surprise some people,” Landress said. “It will require a lot of dedication and commitment, but the kids seem like they’re ready.”
Landress asks his players to follow his example--and contribute everything to football.
“It’s not just a football season job,” he said. “I like to take two weeks off at Christmas and then get going again in January.
“I’m not looking forward to that yet. It’s not fair to anyone--myself, the seniors--to say we’re rebuilding. We’re ready to compete now.”
The drive is still there for Landress. Only the commute is gone.
“After a while, the freeway is a real burnout,” Landress said. “I feel like I have more energy to devote to football now.”
And he’s home again.
Darryl Stroh is well known in the Valley and in high school coaching circles as one of the most successful leaders in Southern California.
That reputation, however, was earned on the baseball field.
This season, Stroh will finally get his chance to coach the varsity team of the sport he likes most: football.
“I approach coaching the two sports in exactly the same way,” said Stroh, who is often described as disciplined and vocal. “I was always accused of coaching baseball like a football coach.”
Stroh, 46, has been running the baseball program at Granada Hills since 1970. His teams have won five City baseball championships, and some of Stroh’s former players include professionals Dave Schmidt of the Texas Rangers, Doug Baker of the Detroit Tigers and John Elway, who played a season of minor league ball in the New York Yankees system before joining the Denver Broncos of the National Football League.
“It’s interesting because I played baseball, but I never had any real aspirations to coach the sport,” Stroh said. “I did my student teaching at this school in 1964 and began helping out with the football program a year later.”
Stroh is replacing Wayne Quigley, who was fired amid controversy last January by Principal Al Irwin. The principal cited “philosophical differences.”
“That was a very rough period for everyone,” Stroh said. “But, I think all of that is behind us now. The attitude of the players has been great so far. We just had the best Hell Week I can remember.”
Stroh, who has been a member of the Granada Hills faculty since 1969, is no newcomer to Highlander football. He has been JV coach, assistant varsity coach--and he co-coached the B team to a 17-0 record over the past two seasons.
The transition to the varsity job has been a smooth one, Stroh said.
“There haven’t been any problems because I’ve had the majority of these kids on the B team or in the baseball program, " he added. “They know me and I know them--inside and out.”
Tom West was a defensive back on the Cal Lutheran College football team that won the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics national championship in 1971.
As a first-year coach at Royal, West said he is prepared to exhibit an explosive offense.
“I think I have a pretty good grasp of the whole package--both offense and defense, passing and running,” West said. “I’m capable of a few surprises.”
West, 30, is replacing Bob Mead after last season’s 2-7-1 finish. He is a familiar face in the Highlander football program, having served as an assistant coach since 1981.
“I think it’s been a real smooth transition,” West said. “I’ve had long enough to develop my own identity and the players have responded in a positive way.”
Bob Misko and Dave Wheeler, who coached with West at Simi Valley, join him at Royal. Jon Malkinson will be offensive coordinator.
“I’m demanding and can be a disciplinarian,” West said. “We like to set our expectations and put a lot of responsibility on the kids.
“With all coaches, there’s a certain amount of ego. But what I really enjoy is seeing the growth in kids and feeling like I had a positive effect on them.”
Bill Foster didn’t want to be a junior varsity coach forever.
But he didn’t think his shot at a varsity coaching job would come this year.
The Cal State Northridge graduate was prepared to begin his fourth season as coach of the B team at Grant. Jeff Engilman, who led Manual Arts to successive City 3-A championships, was to revamp the Lancers’ varsity program.
That was until Engilman ran into trouble with the tackling dummies.
By default, Foster become a varsity coach.
“It hasn’t been a major change,” Foster said. “There has been a turnover in kids. For some reason, a lot of the kids that played on the B team last year aren’t playing this year. I would say that’s because of size. We didn’t have many big kids last year.”
Foster said he has had few problems instituting his new system.
“It’s basically the same system that was here before,” he said. “We’re doing OK in that respect.
“The majority of the kids have adjusted. But it’s a 50-50 thing. The coach has to get acclimated to the kids just as much as they have to get used to him.”
Just as Foster has to get used to suddenly becoming a varsity coach.
Bill Redell liked professional football. He liked Boston. He liked New Orleans.
He didn’t like all three at once.
As an assistant coach for the Breakers of the United States Football League, Redell coached in two cities in two years, and would have been in Portland had he not called it quits.
“I’m 44 years old and I was tired of moving around the United States,” Redell said. “I didn’t want to ask my family to move again.”
So Redell wound up back where he started--as football coach at Crespi.
He had taken the job in 1982, only to leave when Dick Coury, with whom he coached at Cal State Fullerton, offered him a job coaching running backs in the pros.
When the Breakers headed for their third city in three years, Redell headed home.
With his son, Randy, a highly touted quarterback, and younger son Billy, a backup center, Redell will try to turn around a Crespi program that has gone 3-16-1 the past two seasons.
“The big thing will be to turn around the feeling that they can win again,” Redell said. “It’s not that they have bad attitudes. We just have to turn the confidence level of the kids back to positive.”
Redell has a head start on that task because he knows his players through his sons.
“A lot of the kids have been over to the house at various times,” he said. “And a lot would go to the USFL games when the Breakers used to come to town.”
After two years in the professional ranks, Redell expects no problems reacquainting himself with prep football.
“You don’t have as much time to prepare, and you can’t recruit or sign players, you just go with what you have,” Redell said. “But it’s still football at any level.”