Swapping stories with former football coaches Bill Redell and Harry Welch
In a time when humor and leadership are sometimes sorely lacking, my idea this week was to invite Hall of Fame football coaches Bill Redell and Harry Welch to come together on a Zoom call to let them tell stories. They’ve known each other since the 1980s and have shown the acumen to roast others with their oratory gifts.
Redell won eight CIF titles coaching at Encino Crespi, La Canada St. Francis and Westlake Village Oaks Christian. Welch won nine CIF titles while coaching at Canyon Country Canyon, San Juan Capistrano St. Margaret’s and Santa Margarita. Redell’s record was 238-70, including a 48-game winning streak. Welch’s record was 256-60-2, including a 46-game winning streak. Each loves to debate who was more successful, but neither had immediate knowledge how to do a video call.
“Cheryl, help me,” Redell told his wife.
“Eric, what should I do,” Welch said.
Welch, 75, started off by complimenting Redell, 79. “I thought if Cheryl can find something good about you, there must be something good. Then I met your sons. You must be a good guy even though I don’t see it.”
Then came one story after another.
Welch: “Bill took over a floundering Crespi Celts football program. He turns it around instantly and somehow we signed a contract to play and we’re set to play at Birmingham. The place was sold out. Bill’s team had not been scored upon in 11 quarters. Going into the game, Bill and I had an agreement. He told me if somehow he let me win, I would have to do all my insurance business with him the rest of my life. He lets me win that game.”
Redell: “I was only shut out once in over 300 games. It was 35-0 to Canyon and Harry Welch. We had a two-year contract and we had Russell White coming in. Harry called and said, ‘You know, we need to toughen up our schedule, so we’re going to drop the game.’”
Redell explained how White ended up at Crespi.
“Kermit Alexander, who he is related to, played with me in the Shrine game in 1959 and we became friends. I’m sitting at a Notre Dame High School football game. Kermit was there, I said hello and he said, ‘My nephew, Russell White, we’re trying to find a place for him to come to school. How about Crespi’ I said, ‘Is he any good?’ He said, ‘Yeah, he’s very good.’ I set up an interview with him at Crespi and made sure he interviewed with the right person. I didn’t want him to interview with Father Peter. I had him interview with another priest that I had talked to a little bit. That’s how he got in. “
Welch: “You know everything you just said Bill violated five CIF rules.”
Welch talked about trying to inspire his players with speeches.
“If I did give a pregame speech, it tended to be more quoting Hamlet, Macbeth, Rudyard Kipling, Theodore Roosevelt or Winston Churchill. However, at the end of my career I thought I’m going to be like these other coaches. We’re playing at St. John Bosco. I’ll never forget I gave fire, brimstone. I was so enthusiastic. I had the kids ready to play. My oratory skills were going to come to the forefront and we were going to show them. I talked for 10, 15 minutes, and I was on. Middle of the first quarter, sure enough, it was 20-0 . . .St. John Bosco.’”
Redell told the story of his infatuation with collecting coins. It got to the point his assistants at St. Francis decided to test his commitment.
“I’d see coins, a nickle, dime, quarter. I collect coins. They put a quarter on the football field and I think a fish line on it. I was talking to the team and noticed this quarter they had planted. I went to reach for it and the guy pulled the line. It jumped a foot and I went after it again.”
Welch told the story about a miscommunication that was involved in explaining effects of prostrate cancer to his players while at Santa Margarita.
“I made the decision I could fight this and perhaps help other men. I went to the team and was going to educate them about prostrate cancer and told them, ‘I think I’m going to beat this thing, but I want you to know what prostrate cancer is. I’m having a long surgery and one of the side effects could be incontinence. I went through the surgery. A week later, a mom comes up, ‘Coach Welch I’m so glad you came through the prostrate surgery but when our son came home, he was crying that our coach had cancer. The woman said she and her husband prayed for you but we started laughing so hard at the dinner table because our son said, ‘Coach Welch told us about prostrate cancer and if the cancer doesn’t go well, he’s going to end up being incompetent.’ Sometimes we don’t communicate with the players like we thought.”
After more than 30 minutes of stories and laughs, I asked who would be head coach if Redell and Welch were on the same staff.
“I think Harry,” Redell said.
“I would say no way. I’d defer to Bill,” Welch said.
“Let’s put it this way,” Redell said. “I think Harry would be the coach, but if we won, I’d take all the credit.”
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