Courtesy Terry Bernal, Daily Journal
SAN MATEO, Calif. - Coach “O” has never been one to get ahead of himself.
Head coach Larry Owens’ College of San Mateo Bulldogs are currently 7-1 overall, tied for the best overall record in Northern California. They are also undefeated through three Bay 6 Conference games, currently in first place. CSM is currently ranked No. 4 in the state.
Amid the success, Owens — while continually concerning himself with preparing for the next opponent on the schedule — quietly announced he will retire at the end of the season after 21 years at the helm of the Bulldogs.
While Owens said he is honored by any such recognition, he concerns himself more with CSM’s upcoming opponent, Santa Rosa Junior College, and using that game to keep his players moving onward and upward in the football careers and lives.
“Hopefully they’re not looking at it for me,” Owens said. “That’s besides the point. I hope these kids are growing, they are maturing and going down the right path.”
Owens’ retirement will mark the second time he has stepped away from the Bulldogs. He first stepped down following the 2008 season, noting family reasons. His father had just passed away. And his mother, undergoing cancer treatment, needed more attention than was available to a college head coach, necessitating that he resign.
“I was just trying to do something to help the family and do what I could,” Owens said.
Owens returned as an assistant coach under Bret Pollack before beginning his second stint as head coach in 2016, with Pollack returning to his role as offensive coordinator. Three weeks into this season, though, with the Bulldogs getting off to a 3-0 start, Owens, after contemplating retirement for a while, made the decision 2017 would be his final season.
“It was a long thought process for me,” Owens said. “Back when I first started, I wondered if I could make it this far.
“A couple incidents showed me signs,” Owens said. “Life — you’ve lasted this long. So it’s kind of time to step away and do something else.”
While he owns a career record of 126-90, Owens said he never foresaw any kind of success when he first started his coaching career. A graduate of Sequoia High School, a longtime friend Gary Geagan asked Owens if he could assist him in transitioning from running the team at Sequoia to taking over at Woodside.
That was 1974.
“He just asked me if I could help him and it started what has been a long career,” Owens said.
Eleven years later he joined Tom Martinez’s staff at CSM. After one season as an assistant coach at Humboldt State in 1989, Owens returned to take his first head-coaching job at CSM.
Owens was hired as CSM’s head coach in 1990 two years after leaving the program following a four-year stint as an assistant coach under Tom Martinez.
“At that time I didn’t think I’d have a shot,” Owens said. “But (athletic director) Gary Dilley and Coach Martinez had faith in me. And that’s the big thing; I don’t want to let them down.”
When Owens was hired, he was one of just three black football head coaches among Northern California community colleges. He said the number of black head coaches is relatively the same some 27 years later.
“I don’t think it’s changed that much,” Owens said. “There’s a few more guys. … It’s not a huge change. But that’s one of the reasons I’ve tried to do a good job is to show an African-American kid can coach and do a good job.”
While Owens celebrated a big win last Saturday, earning his first victory ever at George Rush Stadium, against City College of San Francisco, the wins and losses don’t seem to phase him. Instead he continues to concern himself with his players striving to get to the next level, and beyond — while never getting ahead of himself — one game at a time.
“He hasn’t changed,” CSM assistant coach Dave Heck said. “He is probably one of the greatest guys I’ve ever coached with. No. 1 is the kids and the program.”