Timeout with Tambo: Remembering Jack Menotti—an original

I am only one, but I am one.

I cannot do everything, but I can do something; and what I should do and can do, by the grace of God, I will do.

Jack Menotti’s favorite poem and way of life

When Jack Menotti came to Ramona High School in 1978, he had enjoyed nothing but success. He had been All CIF linebacker/center at Santa Monica High School. That was when the Southern Section stretched from San Diego to Santa Barbara. He played college football at Loyola. He was a world class beach volleyball player. He served honorably in the Army during the Cold War and returned from Europe and earned his Bachelor’s degree at LA State.

JACK MENOTTI Photo/Olan Mills

He married the love of his life, Gail (he called her Bella, Italian for beautiful), and became a teacher and coach. He helped turn Kearny High School into a winning program as an assistant coach and he turned Madison High School into a winning program as a head coach. While at Madison he coached an undefeated team. When he found out that one of the players on the team was ineligible, he reported the infraction to the proper authorities, prompting the San Diego Unified School District board to recognize him for his “unselfish act.” Jack felt that he was just doing what he should do and by the grace of God did.

His talents were recognized and he moved up to the small college level at United States International University where he brought the spread offense four decades before it became the rage in college football. From USIU (he often called it US-IOU), he moved to Bemidji State University in Minnesota.

Jack and Gail loved and missed California and returned in 1978 when Jack was hired by Myron Bill to be the head coach and athletic director at Ramona High School.

Ramona’s athletic department was in dire straits. At the time, San Diego’s CIF section only had two divisions: big schools and small schools. Ramona was too big to be a small school and too small to be a big school. With an enrollment of about 400, Ramona was in a league with schools with enrollments of over 3,000. Poway had two schools and both were in Ramona’s league.

Coaches were not worried about winning as much as they were about their players getting hurt. All of Ramona’s teams had losing records (save one league championship in track) and several went winless on many occasions. Very few wanted to go out for football. Jack took those who did and taught them more about life than they would ever learn in any other class.

Jack had six sons. Five attended RHS and four played football. However, he treated every young man on his team like he was a son: no favors, no nepotism, just hard work.

At the time, Ramona relied on teacher/coaches. Jack coached baseball, track and any other sport that needed a lower level coach. He hired several great teacher/coaches. “These guys will be coaching my sons,” he said.

His sons played three sports a year, choosing football, soccer, wrestling, or baseball, were ASB officers, and all but one gained admission to a University of California campus. The one who didn’t  went to Stanford after being accepted to Notre Dame. His baseball coach has yet to fully forgive him. Jack believed that idol hands were the Devil’s workshop.

After his coaching career at Ramona was done, Jack coached at Mesa College after teaching a full day at RHS.

Jack had a daughter and treated his female students like they were his daughter.

We lost Jack on Dec. 28. The fourth quarter of his life was tough. He battled Alzheimer’s and the clock ran out.

His memorial service was truly a celebration of life. Not many tears and the ones that were shed were mostly tears of joy.

In life and death whenever Jack’s name came up, a smile came to one’s face and a Jack Menotti story was told.

Jack was a one of a kind, original (redundant but that was Jack). He had elaborate plans that never worked but were carefully thought out by Jack so that only Jack could understand them.

“The people of Ramona will never appreciate all that Jack did for this community. He personified what Ramona is now thought of. When I was at Carlsbad, I couldn’t believe what odds Ramona was up against. We were the second smallest school in the league and we were almost three times bigger than Ramona. Yet they would beat us or beat us up every time we played them. I was disappointed when I came to Ramona and found out that I wouldn’t get to coach a Menotti boy because they were hell to coach against,” stated Mel Galli who became the head coach, athletic director and assistant principal at RHS.

“Most Jack Menotti stories can’t be told in a family paper. The one I love was when I wrote an evaluation of his teaching performance, and with the help of the baseball coach we pretty much ripped him up. Jack just read the evaluation and knew that he had been had. So he corrected it and added everything that we left out and told me if I was going to do a job not to do it half way, but he didn’t say way,” said Mel.

Bill (Billy to Jack) Clark played for Jack, coached with Jack, had Jack on his staff when he was a head coach, and was a lifelong friend.

“The first day that I met Jack was my first day of football practice at Madison High School. I called my dad and told him that my coach was a wild man. However, after playing for him and coaching with him, I learned that everything that he did had a very good reason. There was a method to his madness. I learned a lot from Jack and not just about football. A lot of my coaching philosophy comes directly from Jack,” Billy said.

Billy’s favorite story was about the time there was a serial killer terrorizing Atlanta’s youth. Jack’s plan was to call the athletes in Atlanta and offer them a safe place to play until the serial killer was caught. Billy asked him where they would stay. “You can take a few. Tambo can take some and I will take some. If we treat them right they will stay,” Jack said.

Jack was a member of Kiwanis. During his tenure, speakers at Kiwanis learned to duck flying sugar packets. He also would go to other Kiwanis Clubs and steal their banners so that they would have to come up to Ramona for an inter-club visit.

Jack could play the harmonica with the best of them. The one thing that Jack could not do was sing. When Jack sang the Our Father at mass, Catholics would become former Catholics because of Jack’s loud, enthusiastic and nev-

er-in-tune voice.

Jack was a renaissance

man. He was a son, broth-

er, husband, father, grand-

father, great-grandfather,

teacher, coach, altruist, and as John Bowman pointed out in his eulogy as he used quotes from William Shakespeare: “He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his likes again.”— Hamlet act I, scene ii.S.

Related posts:

  1. Timeout with Tambo: Setting matters straight on the beginnings of Ramona Pop Warner
  2. TimeOut with Tambo: Observations on coaching styles
  3. Timeout with Tambo: Coach Van Zant sets record straight on Bulldogs’ 1973 CIF game
  4. Timeout with Tambo:Explaining semifinal games and CIF rulings
  5. Timeout with Tambo: North County re-leagues for the next two years

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Posted by Karen Brainard on Jan 9 2013. Filed under Columnists, Columns, Sports, Time Out With Tambo, Timeout with Tambo. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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