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Mohney gave it to Cougars

Former coach’s speech pushed College of the Canyons to state title

Posted: January 22, 2009 9:58 p.m.
Updated: January 23, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Len Mohney channeled his inner-Knute Rockne in the dungeon that was Blair Field’s locker room on the first-base side in late May 1981.

Then-College of the Canyons head baseball coach Mike Gillespie didn’t mind his assistant coaches chiming in.

He just watched like his players did that day.

Mohney, a COC baseball assistant coach by day and bartender by night, let fly some of the same words that usually accompany banter over whiskey on the rocks.

“He snapped. He was on fire,” Gillespie recalls.

Nearly 28 years later, it’s the speech of legend at College of the Canyons as it may have been an impetus to a team becoming a local legend.

College of the Canyons inducted its 1981 state championship baseball team into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame Thursday night.

Many of the players and even Gillespie say that speech was a major turning point.

In the double elimination tournament, the seventh-seeded Cougars knocked off heavily favored
Sacramento State in the first round.

Then, the team that wasn’t supposed to finish at the top of its own conference defeated third-seeded Los Angeles Valley College.

But on May 29, 1981, the Cougars lost 8-7 to Harbor College.

It sent Mohney into a rage.

“He turned the locker room over with one of the greatest speeches you’ll ever hear,” says former Cougars second baseman and current University of California, Santa Barbara head coach Bob Brontsema.

Mohney recalls throwing around some expletives.

The assistant coach was fed up with losing in the postseason, as five Western State Conference championships in the decade leading up to 1981 didn’t equate to playoff success.

So he unleashed his fury.

“I just sort of lost it,” says Mohney, now the dean of athletics at College of the Canyons. “It was a spontaneous deal. I think I just told them I was sick and tired of going to the playoffs and losing.”

It was a little more colorful than just that.

“Blank, blank, blank and bleep, bleep, bleep,” Mohney fills in some of the blanks.

Mohney, who would succeed Gillespie as head coach and hold the title from 1987 to 2000, says he gets goosebumps recalling the story.

After the Harbor loss, College of the Canyons pounded Fresno City College 12-6.

Then the Cougars beat Harbor 3-2.

Had Harbor won that game, it would have been crowned state champions.

Finally, the Cougars outlasted Harbor 4-1 by scoring three runs in the ninth inning to win the state championship on May 31, 1981.

“I don’t think it could be underestimated,” Gillespie says of the speech. “We got these unbelievable performances in the next three days.

“It was the proverbial backs against the wall deal. ... No radar gun or stopwatch could measure that speech. I personally think it was giant.”

cosborne@the-signal.com

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