Sherbeck Carries On and On : Fullerton College: Despite retirement rumors, football coach ready for 31st season in O.C.


While on a recent vacation near Flathead Lake in northwestern Montana, Hal Sherbeck sat down for lunch in a diner.

Sherbeck noticed another patron looking at him, but he couldn’t place the face. He eventually gave up and went back to his meal.

Toward the end of lunch, the man walked over and said, “Hi, Coach Sherbeck.”


Sherbeck, Fullerton College’s 62-year-old football coach, was still puzzled. No matter how hard he searched a mind full of athletes from four decades of coaching, he couldn’t make the connection.

Finally, the man identified himself as a former baseball player whom Sherbeck had recruited for the University of Montana . . . more than 35 years ago.

“I apologized for not knowing him,” Sherbeck said. “But he looked at me and said that I didn’t have to be sorry, because he only had a few coaches in his lifetime, but that I must have had thousands of athletes in my career.

“I had never thought of it that way before, but I guess I have coached a lot of young men throughout the years.”

In about six weeks (Sept. 21), Sherbeck will coach the first game of his 31st season at Fullerton. There are those who wonder if it will be the first game of his last season.

The rumor--that Sherbeck, who is also the men’s athletic director and division dean of physical education at the college, was about to retire--has been heard the past couple of years.

It made the rounds again this summer, but Sherbeck says he hardly thinks of the issue and that he hasn’t made a decision either way.

“Time-wise,” he said, “I don’t know when I will retire. I just have to play that part by ear. Things are just so difficult now than before from the educational standpoint.

“We are constantly fighting finances. That’s not fun. It’s all gloom and doom, and I don’t handle that really well. I find myself being a little negative. . . . Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to just be a football coach.”

Sherbeck has been one of the area’s biggest success stories since arriving in the summer of 1961 after coaching at Missoula High School and serving as an assistant at Montana.

He has become the nation’s winningest community college football coach. His teams have made Fullerton’s name known from Taft to Coffeyville, Kan., to Ellsworth, Iowa, and in every other hotbed of community college football.

Under Sherbeck, Fullerton has:

--won three national championships (1965, ’67 and ‘83).

--an overall record of 233-68-8.

--been ranked nationally in 21 of 30 seasons.

--sent more than 500 players to four-year universities on scholarships.

--won 16 conference titles.

--had only one losing season.

--gone 47 games without a loss (between 1964 and ‘68).

The trademarks Sherbeck has displayed through the years--teams that play with discipline and competitive desire--began to form when he was a three-sport star in high school in Big Sandy, Mont. He continued his athletic accomplishments in baseball, football and basketball at Olympic College and the University of Montana.

Sherbeck does calisthenics with his players in warm-up drills. During introductions, his starters gather around him and he has a moment with each.

Then, there are the postgame meetings in the gym, where Sherbeck delivers a speech. And after especially emotional victories, he even removes his upper teeth to the wild cheers of his team.

“That’s the fun part of it--the games,” Sherbeck said. “Seeing the young men perform, seeing them be productive with what you have worked on. . . . Without that, there would be no reason to stay.”

Sherbeck became the men’s athletic director in 1962. His duties include attending curriculum and finance meetings, selecting classes and schedules for the athletic department and representing the school at Orange Empire Conference meetings.

“People only think of Hal as a football coach,” Roger Wilson, former Rancho Santiago athletic director, said recently. “But he is also at all the conference meetings and puts in as much time as an administrator as anyone.”

During football season, Sherbeck’s day begins at 5 a.m. and continues well into the evening, conducting practices, talking with players, watching films and developing that week’s game plan.

Sherbeck is assisted by a talented and loyal staff that includes assistant coaches Al Feola (31st year), Marv Sampson (29th), Glenn Thomas (19th) and Jeff Jespersen (12th) and trainer Bill Chambers (30th).

Sherbeck acknowledged that his workload would decrease if he would step down as athletic director and dean of the department, but that’s a trade-off he isn’t willing to make.

“I don’t find, at this point, that I could give up one or the other,” he said. “It’s a lot of demands on my time and energy, but you don’t want to lose that control that more or less stabilizes your destiny.”

The Sherbeck work ethic, legendary among those who have followed his career, started when he was growing up in Montana.

Since before he was a teen-ager, he had to take care of his sick mother and the house while his father worked.

“I never thought about the way I do things,” Sherbeck said. “That’s the way I grew up and things were just expected. You’ve got a position and certain things have to get done. I can’t divorce myself from it. I have to be available to my staff and players, and I expect as much.”

Sherbeck took a break from his routine this summer. He was in Montana for a vacation and to scout property where he and his wife, Donna, plan to retire.

“I took a vacation maybe 20 years ago,” he said. “And we lost a linebacker (to another college), so I swore I would never do it again. . . . Right now is a frustrating time of year. We are waiting to see if the young men that made commitments to us will show. I can’t wait to get going again.”

For how many more years?

Hal Sherbeck at Fullerton College

Year W L T Conference Nation* Postseason 1961 6 4 0 Third Unranked Orange Show Bowl (lost) 1962 6 2 1 Third 24th None 1963 3 5 1 Sixth (tie) Unranked None 1964 8 2 0 First Fourth Potato Bowl (won) 1965 10 0 0 First First Junior Rose Bowl (won) 1966 9 0 1 First Third Potato Bowl (won) 1967 12 0 0 First First State playoffs (won) 1968 8 1 0 Second Ninth None 1969 10 2 0 First (tie) Sixth State playoffs (lost final) 1970 11 1 0 First Second State playoffs (lost final) 1971 5 4 0 Third Unranked None 1972 4 4 1 Fourth Unranked None 1973 10 1 0 First Third State playoffs (lost semifinal) 1974 5 3 1 First (tie) Unranked None 1975 7 2 0 Second 19th None 1976 9 2 0 First Sixth Avocado Bowl (won) 1977 10 1 0 First Second Avocado Bowl (lost) 1978 6 4 0 Third (tie) Unranked None 1979 7 3 0 Second 19th None 1980 7 4 0 First (tie) Unranked Avocado Bowl (lost) 1981 9 1 0 First (tie) Fifth None 1982 9 2 0 Second Ninth Pony Bowl (won) 1983 10 0 1 First First Potato Bowl (won) 1984 10 1 0 First Third Pony Bowl (won) 1985 8 3 0 First 27th Pony Bowl (lost) 1986 6 4 0 Second 25th None 1987 5 3 2 Second Unranked None 1988 10 1 0 First Third Potato Bowl (lost) 1989 6 4 0 Fourth Unranked None 1990 7 3 0 Third (tie) 23rd None

*--National ranking according to J.C. Grid-wire