Vic Cuccia, a coach known for his innovative passing schemes, showmanship and success in building Los Angeles’ Wilson High School into a football powerhouse in the 1970s, has died. He was 80.
Cuccia, a longtime resident of Alhambra, died Friday at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena after a long illness, his family said.
The coach guided the El Sereno school to a 39-game winning streak in which the Mules won City Section 3-A championships in 1975, ’76 and ’77, led by his son, Ron, a quarterback who set a national record for total offense.
The Mules were 151-42-6 during his 22-year coaching career, from 1956 through 1977. He taught for 44 years at Wilson, and the school named its football stadium in his honor in 1999.
During the 1970s, Wilson’s football team drew standing-room-only home crowds as its wide-open offense, featuring four wide receivers, rolled up points and victories.
“It was the greatest show in town,” said Steve Martinez, Wilson’s current football coach, who was an all-star receiver in 1977 for Cuccia.
Cuccia helped his players gain recognition through the offensive records the team set, through their scoring of points in bunches and by having them change uniforms at halftime in a showmanship maneuver.
The coach drew criticism in 1977 when his team opened a 63-0 halftime lead against Los Angeles’ Lincoln High. The opposing team refused to play the rest of the game and ended up forfeiting.
Born Oct. 9, 1927, in Los Angeles, Cuccia grew up in El Sereno. He played on Wilson’s first league championship team in 1944.
He was a center on the St. Mary’s College football team that lost to Oklahoma A&M; in the 1946 Sugar Bowl. He transferred to Occidental College and played in the 1949 Raisin Bowl, a 21-20 upset victory over Colorado A&M.;
Cuccia served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, his family said. Upon his discharge, he returned to the area to coach youth football and became a teacher and coach at Wilson.
Among his players was Steve Clarkson, who has become one of the top quarterback teachers in the Southland.
“A lot of the stuff I teach today is really because of him,” Clarkson said. “He was before his time. He put all his trust in his quarterbacks. He was a legend and still is.”
Cuccia’s son, Ron, set a City Section and state record for career passing with 8,804 yards and accounted for 145 touchdowns. He set a national record for career total offense with 11,451 yards and went on to play at Harvard.
Asked what he learned from Cuccia, Martinez said, “He gave us the attitude, ‘Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do stuff.’ He was great at that underdog mentality. It really put a chip on everybody’s shoulders, and not just the team but the community.”
In addition to Ron, Cuccia is survived by his wife, Dolores; daughter, Kathleen; and two grandchildren. Instead of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Wilson football booster club, 2201 Charnwood Ave., Alhambra, CA 91803.