Harold Strauss’s players bunched together like they were peeking at risqué pictures. His offenses with their wild maneuverings induced opponents to jump offside. His team’s jersey numbers were so hard to read they prompted sportswriters to curse.
The man was a legend. Then he was gone.
Strauss died in 2019 after winning more than 200 games during a 30-plus year football coaching career that included stops at Bloomington Christian, Colton and Grand Terrace high schools. But his memory lives on. So does his offense.
Banning High revived memories of Strauss on April 1 when it lined up in an antiquated single wing attack in a loss to Coachella Valley.
It had versatile running back/quarterback Erek Smith spinning like a top while running the aptly named spinner series that fell out of fashion probably 70 years ago.
New Banning coach Pete Smolin met Strauss at a single-wing clinic in 2007. They became fast friends.
“We run a lot of his stuff which he stole from guys in the ‘40s,” Smolin said. “I love the offense because of the misdirection. It’s also what I used to beat Redlands my first year in the CBL.”
Visitors to Strauss’s office at Colton High often found him next to a projector viewing grainy game film of old Rose Bowl games played in the first half of the 20th century. He alternated the single wing and double wing with tremendous success and once made an opponent look foolish by getting it to encroach four times in one game.
Smolin has some of Strauss’s old artifacts and has studied them over the years.
“All of the films are black and white,” Smolin said. “There’s Rose Bowl games. And Army games and the Notre Dame box. We run some of that, which Harold Strauss called the ‘Joker Series.’ I have old books and videos. When I first got the job in Redlands, I got some DVDs and playbooks from him.”
Two years after Smolin’s death, nobody knew there’d be a sequel. Which just goes to show that everything old is new again.
Coachella Valley, the team Banning lost to April 1, is the school that helped popularize the fly offense that gained popularity in California in the late 1970s and 1980s and spawned the jet, or jet sweep, we see in modern football.
Back in 1974, former Coachella Valley coach Phil Maas was searching for an offense when an equipment manager named Dennis Acosta said, “Why don’t you guys run the mosca? We ran it back at Delano.”
La Mosca is “the fly” in Spanish and the offense is the creation of the late Gene Beck at Cesar Chavez High in Delano, about 4 1/2 hours north of Thermal in the Coachella Valley.
Maas and his offensive coordinator Roger Sugimoto got an eyeful of the fly, won three league titles with it, and later installed it at North Monterey County High on the Central Coast. There they transformed an 0-10 team into a 10-0 league champion in just one year.
Mark Speckman was an underclassman coach at North Monterey County who was born with no hands though he once got called for holding while playing a game in high school. Speckman studied the fly and later achieved great success with it at schools such as Gilroy and Merced and became a guru of the offense.
Coachella Valley, though, stopped running the fly decades ago, but did just fine running its current offense in its 61-27 victory against Banning.
Yes, we get cards and letters. Carl Martz of Redlands wrote to express concern over the absence of the Los Angeles Dodgers on Frontier Cable TV.
“None of the local newspapers or even the LA Times have mentioned that Frontier Cable has dropped Fox Sports West,” Martz wrote. “They did this last fall, which means no Los Angeles baseball this year on Frontier TV. Could you look into this? Are our only options to switch to another provider or fall back on radio?”
We spent an hour or two trying to reach someone in the know at Frontier and finally received a missive from Javier Mendoza, the vice president of Corporate Communications and External Affairs.
“Frontier has never carried the Dodgers network,” Mendoza wrote.
“SportsNet LA’s terms won’t allow the channel to be added to a premium sports tier and this means ALL Frontier subscribers — not just Dodger fans — would have to pay for the added programming costs. Frontier continually looks for content to satisfy subscribers and would certainly be interested in adding SportsNet LA to its Southern California channel lineup, but the carriage costs remain too high.”
Not the answer Carl Martz was seeking.
John Murphy may be reached at email@example.com.