From The Sports Desk: Coach Briggs loved life, job

A little less than four years ago, Paul Briggs gave me a quote that basically summed up what he thought of his life.

Briggs, a former Orange Coast College football assistant and a high school coaching legend in Bakersfield, died on Monday at age 90 while in an assisted care facility.

He coached for 57 years, including 20 seasons at OCC. At Bakersfield High, he guided the Drillers to a 210-99-15 record. He was such a great mentor to many, and one of my all-time favorite people.

I am saddened by his death, but happy that he appeared to have lived such a full life.

"It's a good life," Briggs said in June, 2007. "I still look back on it and I wouldn't change a damn thing."

I interviewed Coach Briggs for a story in 2003, three years after I had written a column about following him on the sideline during a football game. He was very kind to me. He invited me to his home for dinner for the interview.

He gave me a tour of his house. Since he knew my love for football, he showed me countless photos of his playing days with the Detroit Lions, and even some of his college games at Colorado.

He showed me all his coaching awards, including the plaque that read: 1972 National High School Coach of the Year.

When he showed me a special medal he held back tears as he told me war stories. He had earned the Purple Heart with the Navy while fighting in World War II. In Tuesday's Bakersfield Californian, Coach Briggs' life was detailed in a great article. In the story it says, he earned the Purple Heart after being hit by shrapnel in the nose and back during a Japanese kamikaze attack. He also earned a Bronze star for bravery.

During my interview with him, Briggs expressed his love for God, his wife, his family and football.

I shared with him the challenges I faced in my quest to become a sports writer. I told him I loved the game too.

"If a man loves his work, he's going to be a happy man," Briggs told me.

After the interview I remember thinking a book could have been written about the man. So many were touched by him and you can see that in the Californian story. At OCC, Coach Briggs also made an impact on several people, including Eddie Johnson, a former Newport Harbor High quarterback.

Eddie was the punter at OCC. He went on to star at Idaho and was later drafted by the Minnesota Vikings.

Coach Briggs used to love talking about Eddie. But he was that way with most of his players. He and his late wife, Sally, had one daughter, so he looked at all his football players as his own sons.

"I think the kids realized that once they got to know him, they knew how much he cared about them," OCC Coach Mike Taylor said.

Taylor knew Briggs very well, as they arrived as assistants at OCC the same year. Taylor noticed Briggs' love for the game and love for coaching. Briggs was known for his great organization skills. The legendary coach would chart statistics and make countless notes. He kept a lot of that at his home in his office, or as he would sometimes call it, "the Pit."

"He was a very knowledgeable football man," Taylor said.

Briggs, who coached running backs, then defensive line and special teams at OCC, was also known for his great sense of humor. He usually made me laugh.

You could tell Briggs got a kick out of making people laugh. But he also enjoyed helping people. He was known to buy some of his players' food and help them when they needed it while coaching in Bakersfield.

He was made to coach. At a young age, he told his mother he wanted to become a coach.

He once told me just how much he loved coaching.

"When I walk to practice and the players are out there doing their thing," Briggs said in 2003. "The doggone hair on the back of my neck rises. My head starts to twitch … I see what is store for me for the rest of the afternoon and I'm truly walking in heaven."

Those who knew him now say he is in heaven.

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