OCC's Man at Work : The Coach Who Still Doesn't Look Like One Ready to Rebuild Pirate Program

Times Staff Writer

Bill Workman would have been an ideal guest on the old television game show, "What's My Line?"

At 44, he still has a full head of hair. He hardly has any wrinkles. He is happily married and has a close-knit family.

Who would ever guess that this guy was a football coach?

Coaches, after all, usually have chronically blood-shot eyes from watching game films all night. They have wrinkled, weather-beaten faces that are evidence of the strain and the pressure of their jobs.

They're strangers to their wives and kids because they leave the house at 7 in the morning and don't get home until midnight.

Workman would have had Soupy Sales and the rest of the panel stumped.

He had them fooled again this week. After being named the new coach at Orange Coast College on March 14, he made his first visit to campus Monday in search of the equipment manager.

He got to the equipment room and was greeted by an assistant who asked, "Can I help you?"

"Yeah, I'm Bill Workman, the new football coach," Workman replied.

The assistant took a long, hard look at this man who claimed to be coach.

"Are you sure?" the assistant asked.

"I have been all my life," Workman said.

"You look younger," the assistant said.

That's the story of Workman's life. His achievements have always defied his age.

When he became the head coach at Edison High School in 1973, his boyish face and muscular appearance led some to believe he was a player.

Thirteen years later, after hours of half-court basketball, racquetball and weight-lifting, the 5-foot 11, 185-pound Workman is still in excellent physical condition.

Today, you'd swear the 44-year-old Workman wasn't a day over 34.

And that doesn't bother him a bit.

"When you're 44 and someone thinks you're a year younger, that's OK," Workman said.

Workman may age a bit this year, though. He faces the difficult task of rebuilding an OCC program that has not enjoyed a winning season since 1978 and is 17-51-2 in the past seven years.

There weren't any rebuilding years at Edison, where Workman led the Chargers to a 109-33-5 record, seven Sunset League titles, two Southern Section Big Five Conference championships (1979 and '80) and one Big Five co-championship (1985) in 13 years.

Workman never had a losing season and only twice, in 1977 when the Chargers were 5-5 and in 1983 when they were 4-4-2, did Edison finish with a .500 record.

Recruiting players and building a winner from scratch presents a new challenge for Workman, whose contract officially begins on July 1.

"I'm confident that if we can get enough athletes out there, we'll be able to look most people in the eye, even in the first year or two," Workman said. "There have been hard times here, but you can't lose sight of the fact that (former Pirate Coach) Dick Tucker won two national championships (in 1963 and 1975). It's a wild goal, but it's possible.

"To win more than we lose is the first goal."

Workman's top priority now is assembling a staff. George Mattias, who worked under Tucker, will be one of his assistants, and the new coach hopes to name about seven more assistants by the first week of April. Mattias is an on-campus teacher, but the rest, according to Workman, will be walk-ons.

Then, Workman, who will teach physical education at Orange Coast, will concentrate on recruiting in hope of building the Pirates' roster, which dwindled in recent years. Orange Coast had 56 players last year compared to more than 100 in 1975.

Already, though, Workman has attracted some quality players to Orange Coast. In just one week, Workman said that about 15 players, some of whom have secured scholarships to Division I schools, have expressed interest in attending OCC.

Workman, however, remains cautious.

"You don't know who's coming until they attend class and practice," he said. "We're not really ready to recruit yet. I want to be able to tell a kid that if he comes here, this is the guy who will be coaching him. We haven't begun to shake the bushes yet, but we will soon."

Workman spent 15 years at Edison (the first two as an assistant under Vince Asaro), but always aspired to be a college coach.

"When we moved down here (from Whittier), I looked at Coast and said, 'Some day, that's the job I want,' " Workman said. "And it came true, and now I've got all this work."

A 1959 graduate of Bell High School, Workman played defensive back and running back at East Los Angeles College and Whittier College. After graduating, he spent a year as an assistant at California High, two years as the freshman coach and three as the varsity offensive backfield coach at Whittier College and one year as a defensive assistant at East L.A.

On a 1971 day when he was having his taxes done in La Mirada, Workman ran into Asaro, who also was a Whittier College graduate. Asaro asked how Workman was, and he said he was looking for a job. Asaro, who had just been named Edison coach, offered him a position as offensive coordinator, and Workman jumped at it.

"We just happen to have the same tax guy and were in the same room," Workman said.

During his 15-year tenure at Edison, Workman had several opportunities to leave. He was once offered a head coaching position at a community college in the San Francisco area and he's had several offers to become an assistant at four-year schools. But they weren't the right offers.

Now that he's got the job he wants, he plans on keeping it. Orange Coast isn't just a stepping stone for Workman.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'm going to be here until it's over," Workman said. "I don't think anyone can say I'll never do anything else, but I have no plans or aspirations above this right now."

Workman likes the potential for success at OCC, and he considers his position the ultimate job, but that didn't make leaving Edison any easier.

"When it all happened, part of me wanted to yell, 'Yeah!' and part of me wanted to cry a little bit," he said.

There were a lot of good times at Edison--the 32-game win streak from 1979-81, the two 1980 wins over rival Fountain Valley in front of crowds of 18,000 and 28,000 in Anaheim Stadium, the outstanding players, such as Mark Boyer, Vic Rakhshani, Frank Seurer, Mike Dotterer, Rick Bashore, Kerwin Bell, Rick DiBernardo and Dave Geroux.

Workman ran one of Orange County's most successful and innovative programs. The Chargers were the first to give officials wireless microphones to announce their calls. They were the only county school (in 1981-82) to have live radio broadcasts of games. They were the first to institute a voluntary drug and alcohol testing program for players last year.

"We had a group of people at Edison who weren't afraid to try things," Workman said. "If it looked like it might make the program better or was a class thing to do, we'd go ahead and try it.

"But we took some shots every once in a while, because someone would say Edison is grand-standing."

They were saying much more than that in 1981, when an anonymous, 10-page letter alleging that Workman had recruited several players to Edison was sent to the CIF Southern Section office. The Huntington Beach Union High School District investigated the charges, but Edison was absolved of any malfeasance.

"That hurt and it still hurts," Workman said. "When someone attacks you as a person and your integrity, it really hurts. I think it came with the winning. When we were 5-5 and 4-4-2, there was a lot less animosity, but I learned from those seasons that I'd rather have them shooting at us, because that means we're winning."

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