Following in the footsteps of a legend isn’t an easy job. Just ask the coaches who succeeded John Wooden at UCLA.
But the pressure to maintain a winning tradition was the last thing on Jim D’Amore’s mind Friday night at El Camino College.
His thoughts were on a colleague who won’t be around much longer.
D’Amore, Carson High’s veteran defensive coordinator, had just watched the Colts defeat Banning, 37-16, for the L.A. City 4-A football title in the last game of retiring Coach Gene Vollnogle’s 38-year career.
“Vollnogle is going to be hard to replace,” said D’Amore, who will take over the Carson program with another assistant, Marty Blankenship. “I’m going to miss him tremendously. He’s not only a great coach, but he’s an awfully close friend.”
Carson receiver-defensive back Abdul Muhammad, who scored on a one-yard run in the third quarter to put the Colts up, 20-10, talked about what it meant to send Vollnogle out a winner.
“It was real important to win it for Voll,” he said. “There was a little pressure on us, being that this was his last year. We had to come out and play a great game.”
Blankenship, who played for Vollnogle at Carson, said it is impossible to replace a man who has the most varsity football victories (289) in California history and the most City titles (10).
“Nobody is going to replace Vollnogle,” Blankenship said. “Nobody is even thinking about doing that. We’re just going to take what he’s instilled and keep it going.”
Vollnogle, who made his way through a sea of well-wishers after the game before being able to spend time with his family, said the impact of coaching his last game won’t hit him for a while.
“You live from season to season,” he said. “This one’s over with, and we were fortunate enough to win it. If I wasn’t retiring, I’d feel the same way. Now maybe in a couple of weeks I’ll feel differently, when I know it’s really over. But right now, it’s just like the season is over with and nothing else. It’s more of a relief.”
Vollnogle ended his career with seven consecutive victories over Banning, extending the longest streak in the 28-year series.
For a while, though, it looked like Banning might end the drought.
The Pilots recovered nicely from a 7-0 deficit to take a 10-7 lead at the half. But a dropped pass late in the second quarter and a mistake-filled third quarter spelled doom for the underdogs.
Banning should have had another touchdown in the first half, but receiver Mark Starr dropped a 36-yard pass from quarterback Anthony Nicholson in the end zone. Seven plays later, Carson cornerback Shawn Parnell intercepted a pass from Nicholson in the end zone with 19 seconds left in the half.
Then, on the first play of the third quarter, Nicholson and fullback Ken McKinley fumbled on an exchange and linebacker Frank Padilla recovered at the Banning 24-yard line. Four plays later, Carson quarterback John Walsh scored on a one-yard plunge to put the Colts ahead to stay, 14-10.
“It was just mental mistakes,” said Travis Davis, Banning’s outstanding tailback. "(Carson) capitalized on them, that’s what it was. We knew we had to come out playing hard, but mistakes just broke our backs.”
D’Amore said he is hoping that Steve Clarkson will join the Carson staff next season.
Clarkson, who was not allowed to coach at Carson this season because of his alleged involvement in the transfer of Walsh from West Torrance, was Carson’s offensive coordinator in 1988, the year quarterback Perry Klein transferred from Palisades and helped lead the Colts to a 55-7 victory over Banning in the City title game.
“Hopefully we’ll have Steve Clarkson help us, but he may be going to college somewhere (to coach),” D’Amore said. “I’d like to have him come over and help us full time.”
Clarkson has been given a lot of credit for installing Carson’s double-wing passing game, which utilizes four receivers, but D’Amore pointed out that it was Vollnogle who first unveiled the formation in the 1984 championship game against Banning.
After losing the regular-season meeting to Banning, Carson came out in a four-receiver formation with no running back and upset the Pilots, 33-20, at the Coliseum behind the passing of quarterback Carl Thompson.
Afterward, Carson’s offense was dubbed “Air Vollnogle.”
“Vollnogle is the one who invented what you saw tonight,” D’Amore said. “He was the first one who went with this no-back offense with four receivers. (Clarkson) has refined it and helped a little bit on it, but everything else belongs to Vollnogle, believe me.”
D’Amore said the prospects of Carson enjoying another championship season in 1991 are good. Among the players returning are junior receiver Theron Hill, who was named to The Times’ All-South Bay second team.
And there is always the possibility Carson will add several transfers.
“We got a lot of good kids coming back and we got a whole lot of kids who want to come in from other schools who have been following us,” D’Amore said. “We’re still going to throw the ball. Hopefully that will attract good players. Good players, as you can see, win ball games.”
What a sad week for Banning football.
Bad enough the Pilots suffered their seventh consecutive loss to Carson, but we also learned that Stanley Wilson, perhaps the greatest Banning running back of them all, was arrested on a burglary charge Thursday in an abandoned house in Long Beach that was a hangout for drug users.
“He was at the bottom of the pit, in a place filled with trash and (hypodermic) needles,” Sgt. Robert Gillissie of the Long Beach police told the Long Beach Press-Telegram. “It’s almost like he was asking someone to grab him by the neck and shake him out of it.”
Wilson, 29, banned for life from the NFL for drug offenses, was a two-time winner of the L.A. City 4-A Player of the Year award in 1977 and ’78, leading Banning to the City title both seasons.
A former Oklahoma standout, Wilson spent most of his pro career with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Vollnogle had the last laugh on Banning, but it wasn’t always that way.
From 1978 to 1983, Banning won all five of its meetings with Carson in the City championship game.
And from 1976 to 1984, Banning owned a 10-4 edge over Carson in all games.
It was undoubtedly the most frustrating period of Vollnogle’s career.
But the tables started to turn in the mid-'80s. Carson defeated Banning for the City title, 33-20, in 1984, and sent former Banning Coach Chris Ferragamo out a loser, 21-11, in the 1986 final. Ferragamo, once the toast of the City, left high school coaching after that season for a short-lived career at Harbor College.
Friday night’s victory represented the third in a row for Carson over its rival in championship games, but Banning still holds an overall edge (6-4).
It was a big week for the Leuzinger and Redondo basketball teams.
Leuzinger improved to 4-0 Friday night with a 75-70 victory over Mira Costa in the championship game of the El Segundo/Kiwanis Tournament. Forward Tyrone Merriweather led the Olympians with 27 points.
Redondo, meanwhile, won three games, including a 53-52 semifinal victory Friday night over El Toro, to reach Saturday night’s championship game of the Beverly Hills Tournament. The Sea Hawks have been getting impressive play from guard Jason Correa and forward David Cottey.