Denny Stolz’s first practice the day after he was told that Saturday would be his last game as San Diego State football coach looked and sounded like the hundreds of others he has conducted in his 3 seasons.
Players grunted. Coaches shouted. Colliding pads made that plastic-meets-plastic smashing sound. All the outward signs indicated that Tuesday was just another day at the 55th Street practice complex.
But as darkness fell, and players and coaches began that short walk from the field to the locker room, there was an understanding that even though the practice routine was no different, much had changed in 2 days.
“It was kind of weird at first,” said Kevin Wells, SDSU’s senior center. “We all wondered how (Stolz) would react. We keep looking to see how he would do.” Stolz, as he has done since the announcement Monday afternoon that he was fired as coach effective the end of the season, simply went about his business.
He attended his regular Tuesday meeting with reporters. He conducted his normal pre-practice meetings. And once on the field, he went about doing what he usually does--overseeing the offense and coaching the quarterbacks.
“I wondered myself what this would be like,” Stolz said. “I’ve never been in this position before. But everything went as it always does. There was no change.”
Still, there were some differences in the routine, primarily the calls of support from friends, many of them coaches. Stolz said some of the coaches offered opportunities for future employment.
“It’s too early to think about that,” Stolz said.
Stolz said he has put such thoughts on hold until at least after the season ends Saturday at New Mexico. He said his only plans are to remain on the job until the football banquet Tuesday night and then clean out his office the next day when Al Luginbill, associate athletic director for student services and internal affairs, takes over as coach.
Stolz, who has 3 years remaining on his contract, is to be assigned to an-as-yet-unspecified job within the university.
Stolz has not hid his bitterness that his 3 seasons were too short to turn the Aztecs around. In his first season in 1986, Stolz led SDSU to its only Western Athletic Conference championship. But the Aztecs are 7-15 since, including 2-8 this year.
“I firmly believe that they had to make the change this year because we were going to win way too many games next year,” Stolz said. “We’re only talking about 2 years after a championship, and to our staff and our players that is just not fair. “
Stolz pointed to his recruiting successes as evidence that the rebuilding was headed in the right direction.
“If we didn’t have (Tommy) Booker, (Scott) Barrick, (Patrick) Rowe and Morey Paul or had been battling around 4 or 5 years and hadn’t beaten anybody, there wouldn’t have been any other side to the coin,” he said. “But we just got these kids. We just got the building (Aztec Athletic Center) to recruit to, it just opened this fall.”
The building was part of the community’s reward for that conference championship season. Now Stolz realizes he must turn over the keys to another coach. And as he stood under the shelter of its courtyard Tuesday evening, the reality of the past 1 1/2 days hit him again.
“I still have to get used to the shock,” he said.
The already-thin San Diego State defensive line might be a little thinner than expected for Saturday’s game at New Mexico. Junior end Bob Graff is questionable after spraining his knee in a motorcycle accident this week, trainer Don Kaverman said. Junior end Jason Swaney also is questionable after spraining an ankle last Saturday against Texas El Paso. Sophomore end Pio Sagapolutele was ruled out of the game earlier after severely spraining his right knee against UTEP. That leaves the Aztecs with only four healthy defensive linemen who have played in a game--junior Steve Blyth, freshman Eric Duncan, freshman Matt Hyatt and junior Milt Wilson. Inside linebacker Lee Brannon, who has played with one injury or another most of the season, now has a bruised foot and is questionable. Brad Platt, who was replaced as the Aztecs’ starting quarterback 3 games ago by Scott Barrick, is bothered by a sore throwing shoulder and did not practice. Jack Skoog, a left-hander who relieved Barrick against UTEP, has been practicing as the second-team quarterback.