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Welch is the state’s standard

Posted: December 15, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: December 15, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 

Marie Oshida, the executive director of the CIF, told a group of people at Monday’s luncheon for the CIF State Championship Bowl Games that Harry Welch is doing something that will likely never be done again in this state, according to someone who was at the event.

Welch’s Santa Margarita team will play Bellarmine of San Jose on Friday night at 8 p.m. at the Home Depot Center in the Division I state championship game.

The 66-year-old coach has now led three different programs — Canyon High, St. Margaret’s and now Santa Margarita — to state title games.

With Santa Margarita’s 27-13 win over San Clemente last Saturday in the CIF-Southern Section Pac-5 Division championship game, Welch is now the owner of nine division titles (Canyon 1983, 1984, 1985, 2005 and 2006; St. Margaret’s 2007, 2008 and 2009; and Santa Margarita 2011).

He is 9-1 in division title games and 2-0 in state title games (Canyon — Division I, 2006 and St. Margaret’s — Small School Division, 2008), making him an 11-time CIF champion.

Because of those marks, because he has led an overwhelming underdog (Canyon) and a small school (St. Margaret’s) to state titles and breathed new life into a former Orange County powerhouse (Santa Margarita), and for a multitude of other reasons, Welch is the mark by which all other high school football coaches in California should be measured.

No matter which side of the fence you stand on, no one can deny the accomplishments of this coach, whose football identity was developed and defined by his time in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Whether you think he was Dirty Harry or hard on kids or tough to deal with or broke a trophy case in Santa Barbara, he has been an educator, a charismatic leader and a champion.

Welch laughed when asked if he thinks by reaching this most recent state championship game, he is the best high school football coach in the state.

“I can’t answer that,” he said this week.

He also said he couldn’t answer why he’s had success at three different schools — three very different schools with three very different environments.

“I’m sure there is (an answer), but it’s not for me to answer,” Welch said. “That answer would probably come from the players I was privileged enough to coach at Canyon and my opposing coaches.”

So let 2006 state champion and two-time All-Santa Clarita Valley Football Player of the Year J.J. DiLuigi answer the question.

“He’s very tough,” DiLuigi, now a senior running back at Brigham Young University, said with a laugh. “He really gets into you. I don’t know if it’s that he makes you so mad you want to take it out on somebody else. I know he does it for some people where they’re so mad at him all week long that they just want to kill somebody on Friday.

“But you respect him so much. You want to play hard for him. You want to play at your top ability all the time. Some coaches are good coaches, they know their Xs and Os, but they don’t know people.

“The thing with him is he turns high school boys into men and teaches them life lessons that they can take on for the rest of their lives. And that helps on the football field because they aren’t going to quit on him.”

There are other great, even legendary California high school football coaches of this generation.

There’s Bill Redell at Oaks Christian, who continually leads his teams to championships and championship games.

But those coaches haven’t achieved the same success as Welch.

Remember, Welch won 46 consecutive games with Canyon, then resurrected the program after a seven-year absence as head coach and led them to their successes of the mid-2000s.

The man who is said to have set the standard in the state is Bob Ladouceur — the head coach of Concord De La Salle and the most successful high school head football coach in the nation.

His teams won 151 straight games from 1992 to 2004.

Since the state championship games were renewed by the CIF in 2006, De La Salle has appeared in a state championship game every year, including this year with its Open Division matchup with Westlake on Saturday.

Ladouceur is 3-2 in those games, losing in 2006 to a Welch-led Canyon team that some people felt didn’t belong in the building with De La Salle.

Welch, point blank, outcoached Ladouceur in the game.

Not just because Canyon won, but because of the way the Cowboys played and the way they were prepared.

Welch, by way of taking three different teams to the state title game, has worked with different challenges than the great Ladouceur.

If he wins on Friday, he’s not just the best coach in the state. He’s the greatest football coach this state has seen in the last 30 years and is in the argument for best ever.

Cary Osborne is The Signal’s sports editor. He can be reached at cosborne@the-signal.com. His views reflect his own and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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