Forty years haven’t hardened John Ralston to the satisfaction of seeing young people succeed.
Ralston, in his fourth season as head football coach at San Jose State, won back-to-back Rose Bowls at Stanford in the early 1970s and helped turn the Denver Broncos into a competitive NFL franchise.
Victories are scarce these days, and cherished all the more.
A week ago, the Spartans evened their Western Athletic Conference record at 1-1 by coming from behind to defeat Texas-El Paso, 26-25, a performance Ralston found of particular value.
The 69-year-old College Football Hall of Famer was so excited, he compared the winning drive against UTEP to the one Joe Montana led in the San Francisco 49ers’ last Super Bowl win under Bill Walsh.
“We were excited for the players,” Ralston said. “They enjoyed that at the end of the game.
“The satisfaction you get in coaching is seeing the players happy, and they should experience a lot more of that sort of thing.”
They probably won’t today, if oddsmakers know anything. The Spartans were made 27-point underdogs against Washington State, which beat Oregon 55-44 one week ago.
“Washington State is an excellent team,” said Ralston, 3-3-1 against the Cougars while at Stanford from 1963-71. “They dismantled Oregon - and a good Oregon team that had played successfully on three occasions.
Since taking his first coaching job in 1956, as an assistant at California, Ralston has earned a reputation as a capable coach and genuine person.
“He’s a person I have looked up to all my life,” WSU coach Mike Price said. “I can remember the very first time I met him (at a clinic in 1971).
“He’s a true gentleman and a first-class coach - really smart, really organized.”
Finding dirt on Ralston is like trying to get a vodka-and-tonic in a convent. Ain’t gonna happen. There was a disagreement with Fresno State’s Jim Sweeney a couple years back, when Ralston felt the ex-WSU coach had run up the score, but it was nothing serious.
The 1994 incident is significant only because it may have produced the closest thing to an anti-Ralston remark.
Sweeney, who coached WSU when Ralston had his best Stanford teams, used the occasion to poke fun at Ralston’s squeaky-clean image.
“Ralston was complaining how the other night we poured it on them (in Fresno State’s 45-13 win),” Sweeney said in ‘94. “Cougar fans will relate to this. Ralston, his halo wasn’t quite so perfect a fit when he beat me 63-16 (in 1970).
“He ought to loosen up his halo. I looked up in the fourth quarter and didn’t see anybody but (star quarterback Jim) Plunkett playing.”
Twenty-six years after smoking Sweeney, Ralston doesn’t have to worry about running it up. His quarterback, Carl Dean, won’t be mistaken for Plunkett, and leading receiver Windrell Hayes is no Randy Vataha.
The only constant is Ralston, whose stabilizing influence isn’t reflected by his 9-28 record at SJSU.
Why have his San Jose State teams struggled, when Ralston’s six immediate predecessors left with winning records?
“Part of it is the fact that coaches before him were recruiting junior-college players, and then they got basically mandated to recruit high school players,” defensive coordinator Mike Church explained.
“Just about the time he gets here, you’re recruiting high school guys and it’s a turnover from JC guys, so there’s a huge hole.”
Ralston’s contract runs through next season. Time is the enemy.
“Nobody wants to wait,” Church said. “He doesn’t want to wait any more than anyone else does. “I think the guy would like to win - show that he can turn a program around - and then walk.”
Like brother, like brother
Identical twins Matt and Mark Roe, kicked out of San Diego State after being cited in a fraternity brawl and testing positive for a banned substance, are the starting offensive tackles for San Jose State.
They’ll be charged with keeping Washington State defensive ends Dorian Boose and Shane Doyle away from Spartans quarterback Carl Dean.
In April 1995, they were charged with testing positive for testosterone ethanate. The NCAA leveled a one-year suspension, and the twins ended up in San Jose.
The Roe brothers have claimed they took the illegal substance to facilitate recovery from injury.
Must be Love
When University of the Pacific dropped its football program last year, nearby San Jose State went shopping.
Tight end Love Jefferson, who redshirted two years ago and didn’t play football last season, was high on the Spartans’ list. He ended up choosing Washington State instead.
It’s fitting, then, that circumstances have conspired to make Jefferson a more prominent figure in the Cougars’ offense - just in time for today’s 2 p.m. home game against San Jose State.
David Knuff and Jon Kincaid have been WSU’s top two tight ends this season, but Kincaid suffered a season-ending ankle injury in last week’s victory over Oregon.
Joe Furlow had three punts longer than 70 yards in the Spartans’ win over UTEP last week… . SJSU backup safety Ashanti Hayes, formerly of WSU, downed a punt on the UTEP 2-yard-line. … The Cougars lead the series 6-4-1, but haven’t won since 1966. The last meeting was in 1986, when the Spartans left Pullman with a 20-13 win… . SJSU halfback Patrick Walsh, the team’s second-leading rusher with 135 yards, has bad shoulders and may not play much. Carlos Meeks is expected to play more for the Spartans, who have been outrushed 1,051-373 this season.
As expected, WSU will be without offensive right tackle Ryan McShane (knee sprain) and linebacker Johnny Nansen (knee surgery). Lewiston’s Rob Rainville starts for McShane, and Kenny Moore starts for Nansen. Spokane’s Steve Gleason will also figure more prominently in the linebacker rotation.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo Graphic: Cougars vs. San Jose State
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