Implementing Aggie-style football isn’t as simple as falling out of that Jim Sochor coaching tree everyone talks about.
Pacific University (Ore.) head coach Keith Buckley — now in his fourth season at the helm — is one of the branches on that storied ancestry.
After his first season up north, Buckley recalls seeing his mentor, former UC Davis leader Bob Biggs.
“I ran into coach Biggs recruiting,” the personable Buckley remembers. “The first words out of my mouth was an apology. Sitting there as a second-, third-, or fourth-chair assistant, I didn’t realize how many ways (a head coach) gets pulled.
“I never realized the amount of work coach Biggs had to do. Kinda funny being on the other side, but now I understand.”
Good thing that, like those before him, Buckley learned from the best. That apprenticeship and imbedded football knowledge helped take the former Aggie cornerback to Forest Grove, Ore., to rekindle a program that lay dormant for almost 20 years.
Now, Buckley and Pacific University are off to a 2-0 start and visit 1-2 Menlo College (Atherton) Saturday. He’ll reunite with his former UCD teammate Mark Grieb, who is in his first season leading the Oaks. (There’s a coaching-tree joke there somewhere.)
I had a chance to catch up with Buckley on Thursday. It was pretty clear: once an Aggie, always an Aggie.
“This has been a lot of fun,” the former Biggs disciple told me. “I don’t know if anybody really knows what they’re doing in trying to restart a program … but I fell back on my Aggie days (when it) was about the school, the players, a place at which I couldn’t have asked for a more positive experience.”
Buckley said he’s tried to emulate his Davis playing and coaching lessons in Oregon:
“That UCD coaching tree everybody talks about … I’m proud to be part of that. There were so many good people we were around. This (program) is just an extension and a fun testament to coach Sochor and UCD.”
While QB Grieb was etching his name in the Aggie record books — top 10 in a half-dozen categories — Buckley was helping an iron-fisted defense stay the course. With Grieb and Buckley playing for Biggs, UCD went 30-11-1.
Now, the former Aggies will watch their players attempt to knock the cream cheese out of one another.
Buckley says as classmates and friends, he’s looking forward to the reunion. He thinks there will be a little time after the game during which family and friends of both coaches will be able to get together, quickly catch up.
But the Boxers (their mascot’s evolution is a long story) have to catch a plane Saturday night and the reminiscing will be at a minimum.
By the way, Pacific features 2009 Davis High graduate Gabe Flory.
Flory, now a senior, is coming off a knee injury in 2012 and “is getting there,” says Buckley.
Flory knows a little something about helping a football program get its feet again. The linebacker (son of John and Debi) played for coach Dan Gazzaniga (yes, another ex-Aggie) during back-to-back 2-8 seasons.
Buckley (and Flory) have seen Pacific go from 0-9 that first year back, to 1-8 and on to 3-6 last fall. The 2010 campaign marked the 100th football season in school history.
Pacific University was founded before the Civil War and began playing football in 1892. How long ago? Basketball was just invented and electricity came to Forest Grove the year before.
During the original 99-year run, Pacific University once had Paul Stagg — son of legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg — as its coach. Stagg directed the Boxers to several Northwest Conference titles and beat UCD in two Peach Bowls (1949 and 1951).
Buckley, who scours Northern California for players, was asked if he had anything to say to the home folk?
“Yes. It’s 75 degrees today,” the coach reported by phone. “There’s not a cloud in the sky. Tell everyone it doesn’t rain every day in Oregon.”
While I Have You Here: Most of you know Grieb spent 13 seasons in the Arena Football League (mostly with San Jose). Did you know he won three Arena Bowls and played for Sochor in NFL Europe (Scottish Claymores)?
Knew that, too, huh? Alright, smarty, how many touchdown passes did Grieb throw in the AFL?
Try 922. Seriously, take that Peyton Manning.
Oh, and that Pacific mascot? I know you want to know …
In the late 19th century, an alumus gave the school a statuette purchased from a Chinese family. It was the family’s coat of arms — a mix of several mythical creatures.
It was placed in a display case on campus and became known to students as “dragon dog.” Eventually, a high-ranking school official began saying it looked like a boxer — the dog, not the fighter.
Pacific University historians have written that, over time, dragon dog evolved into the school’s beloved Boxer mascot.
I suppose that story is as good as any.
— Bruce Gallaudet is a staff writer for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at email@example.com or 530-747-8047.