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Former Huntington Beach High boys’ basketball coach Elmer Combs dies

Elmer Combs won eight league titles as head coach of Huntington Beach High School boys' basketball from 1958 to 1977.
Elmer Combs won eight league titles as the head coach of the Huntington Beach High School boys’ basketball team from 1958 to 1977.
(Courtesy of the Combs family)

Former Huntington Beach High School boys’ basketball coach Elmer Combs has died.

Combs, 91, died of natural causes on Sunday, his daughter Terri said.

Over the span of 19 seasons from 1958 to 1977, Combs accrued 328 wins with the Oilers. Roy Miller, who played for Combs and later succeeded him as coach, said that Combs is the winningest coach in program history.

Huntington Beach won eight league titles with Combs manning the bench.

Miller was a 6-foot-2 center for an Oilers squad that reached a CIF final against Compton in 1968. That Compton team had several college-bound basketball players and an Olympic high jumper in Reynaldo Brown. Huntington Beach lost the game 64-52 at the Long Beach Arena.

Under Combs, the Oilers also won an incredible 44 consecutive league games. Miller remembers how the streak got started.

“The very first league game of the 1967 season, we lost to Estancia in three overtimes, and obviously, that didn’t sit well with us, so we went on to have 44 straight league victories after that,” Miller said, adding that the run went on to be the Orange County record for league wins in a row for some time afterward.

“I [was a] sophomore. After I lost that league game to Estancia in triple overtime, I never lost a league game after that in my remaining three years.”

Combs’ teams may not have been the biggest, but what they lacked in size, they made up for in grit. Miller said that it was Combs’ ability to demand and get more out of his players that he took from his former coach when he took the reins.

With Huntington Beach experiencing great success under Combs, and Marina being coached by Lute Olson at the same time, Miller said that the crosstown rivalry was something to behold. The late Olson went on to become the winningest coach for the University of Arizona men’s basketball program.

Elmer Combs built quite a rivalry with Lute Olson who coached Marina High at the time.
Elmer Combs built quite a rivalry with Lute Olson who coached Marina High at the time.
(Courtesy of Roy Miller)

“We did a couple of times lose to them in tournaments, but we never lost to them in league in the three years that I played,” Miller said. “Lute Olson was there for those, so it was a tremendous rivalry. As a matter of fact, if you didn’t get into that gym by the first quarter of the JV game, you didn’t get in. It was insane, and it’s hard to explain to people nowadays.”

Combs and Miller, who would succeed his former coach as head coach of the Oilers from 1978 to 2000, had a special bond. Both were physical education instructors and each served as athletic director at the school. Both also played college basketball, Combs at USC and Miller at Long Beach State.

Terri Combs said that her father was best known for his humor and his humility. She added that he was organized and a decent man who never swore at home.

As a coach, Combs left an indelible mark on his family, as all of his kids inherited his work ethic.

“Something that is super important that he passed on to all of his kids was his work ethic,” Terri Combs said. “He worked hard his entire life, and he passed that on to us because we’re all really hard workers, too, always made our own way, never asked for help, and that was because of him. He taught us that.”

Terri Combs said that the family is considering a celebration of life for her father in the spring. The plans are tentative because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Combs is survived by his son Randy, 69, daughters Jennifer Williams, 67, and Terri, 64, and four grandchildren.

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