Few people would dare pick a fight with Jory Goldberg, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound tackle from Granada Hills High. He's so big and strong he could stuff a sportswriter in a trash can with one arm tied behind his back.
But there is one person who makes Goldberg tremble--Darryl Stroh, the 59-year-old Granada Hills co-coach.
"I'm scared of Coach Stroh," Goldberg said. "I know what he can do. I've seen it happen. I don't want to do anything to [anger] this guy."
The legend of Stroh's antics and accomplishments have been passed down from one graduating class to the next since his arrival at Granada Hills in 1964.
There was the time Stroh brought his baseball team into the locker room, told them they stunk, then reinforced it by flushing a toilet.
There was the time Stroh stood behind quarterback Jeremy Leach on the practice field as Leach tried to pass the ball and yelled, "If I took you into the gym right now, you couldn't hit a ball off the wall."
Even John Elway, a former Granada Hills quarterback, has been on the receiving end of a Stroh tirade.
"He probably got it less than anyone else," Stroh said.
Stroh retired from coaching football after the 1993 season and gave up coaching baseball following the 1996 season. His friends and former players got together for a retirement party complete with gifts and a videotape.
He was supposed to ride off into the sunset, content with his teams having won seven City championships.
Except Stroh felt miserable.
"Retirement is highly overrated," Stroh said. "I don't play golf. I had nothing to do. I couldn't find anything, so life gets very boring and there's no passion, no reason for getting up in the morning."
Stroh also couldn't accept watching the demise of the once powerful Granada Hills football program. The team went 3-27 in three years under Coach Brad Ratcliff. When Ratcliff resigned last November, Stroh approached his former coaching partner, Tom Harp, about returning.
"He got tired of sitting on the couch," Harp said. "All he did was watch soaps."
Harp gave up coaching football after the 1994 season. He was burned out.
"In football, the daily squabbles, the daily hassles wear you down," Harp said.
Like Stroh, he had been an elite coach, having guided Granada Hills to three City volleyball titles. He was reluctant to return to coaching football--unless Stroh joined him.
"I was trying to get him to come back on his own, and he wouldn't do it," Stroh said.
Finally, the two agreed to return as a duo last spring but few expected them to immediately turn around a program that had fallen on hard times.
The Highlanders are 3-0.
"I'm really proud of our kids," Stroh said. "We have a bunch of kids who play hard. If we get them in the right spots, we have a chance."
Said Harp: "Three things are necessary to be successful in football--organization, discipline and some good players."
Stroh is the one who provides the discipline. It goes beyond not allowing earrings or long hair. It's a matter of demanding focus from his players and offering the chance to be successful as a reward.
"The practice field atmosphere has to be a learning experience," Stroh said. "You can't be screwing around. You can't be standing at the back of the line not paying attention. You have to be focused on what we're doing full time or we'll run your butt off.
"Discipline puts an order to what's going on so the kids have a chance to succeed."
Harp is a master organizer and offensive guru. He's the one who maintains a link to Granada Hills' passing tradition. Many of his former quarterbacks have ranked among the City Section passing leaders. This season, he's trying to tutor junior quarterback Jason Winn, who will be a key player if Granada Hills expects to challenge Taft and El Camino Real in the Northwest Valley Conference.
Stroh's defense has allowed only 21 points this season. The best defenders are backs Peter Gunny and Gerald Jones, linebacker Adrian Padilla and linemen Goldberg and Robert Garcia. But Stroh's passion is what rubs off on his players.
"He's just a great leader," running back Jon Humphrey said. "He's brought so much back at the school."
Goldberg met Stroh when he was in junior high and came to watch his brother, Josh, pitch for Granada Hills' baseball team.
He had heard the stories of Stroh lecturing his brother, but then Josh would tell him what Stroh was really about.
"He told me, 'If you don't give your all, he's going to really chew you out,' " Goldberg said.
Goldberg remembers coming up to Stroh at a baseball banquet and asking, "What do you look for in a football player?"
"He said he looks for discipline and a player who doesn't quit," Goldberg said. "That's why I decided to play football."
Stroh's first decision after coming back was to show highlight tapes of Granada Hills' glory years.
"We really sold them on the past, on Elway," he said. "This is the way it ought to be done; this is how it is done."
Asked what he'd do for Stroh, Goldberg said, "Anything he told me to do, and you'd get the same response from everyone on the team."
After Granada Hills upset Royal, 17-7, last week at the newly named John Elway Stadium, Goldberg took a moment to reflect on what the team had accomplished.
"The feeling after I looked up at the scoreboard was totally amazing," he said. "I was never so proud of the team and never so proud of the coaches we had."
Eric Sondheimer's local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422.