Part II: Sochor’s genius was to understand everybody’s brilliance

* Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series focusing on the relationship between UC Davis football icon Jim Sochor and San Francisco 49ers offensive guru Bill Walsh and how Sochor was open to change while maintaining excellence.

When UC Davis football coach Jim Sochor began to turn heads with a hybrid offense and whip-smart players in the early 1970s, nobody could have guessed at the kind of success the gridiron future held for his Aggies.

There would be 156 wins through his reign before he “retired” in 1988. UCD would capture 18 straight conference championships. Old Toomey Field would be the envy of most Northern California stadiums. Under Sochor’s tutelage, Davis football became legend.

365体育投注Success built upon success. And that old adage — “If something works, don’t fix it” — seemed safely in place at UC Davis.

But a closer look reveals that Jim Sochor was a tinkerer. Those with whom he chose to discuss the finer points of football included some of the game’s ranking icons … John Madden, Tom Landry, John Robinson and Bill Walsh.

Quarterbacks on Sochor’s watch included Bob Biggs, Jim Speck, Mike Moroski and Ken O’Brien (among others), each a strong-armed thrower who could get you 80 yards in one play. He mentored Chris Petersen and Scott Barry, signal-callers who often navigated mind-over-matter situations.

365体育投注All the time, Sochor and his coaching staff had schemes that fit. All the time, the scoreboard read the same: Aggies, a lot; opponents, a little.

365体育投注Biggs, who spent the better part of five decades as an Aggie player, assistant and head coach, remembers when Sochor and staffers like Paul Hackett would venture to Thousand Oaks and absorb the philosophies of Landry and the Dallas Cowboys’ flex offense.

365体育投注He recalls when Hackett later turned up coaching under Robinson in the University of Southern California’s stunning college run in the mid-1970s, and what that meant to UC Davis football.

“They were so gracious, both Paul and John, with their time,” Biggs told The Enterprise. Sochor was hooked on the famous Trojan sweeps and how Robinson loved to do the unexpected on offense.

At one point, Biggs recalls, the Aggies were using Cowboy plays and terminology, then weaving in some of the schemes of Troy. Visitors to Toomey Field one day might get a 250-yard rushing performance from the Aggies, then the following Saturday see Moroski pass for 325 yards and four touchdowns.

But some of the most significant influence on the program — and some of Jim’s most treasured football moments, according to his wife Donna — came from collaborations between Sochor and Walsh in the late 1970s.

365体育投注“They really enjoyed each other’s company,” Donna remembers. “Philosophy, life, history … dealing with people and players as equals. It was a really special relationship. Jim and Bill were a lot alike in a lot of ways.”

365体育投注The transition from the coach’s first decade at Davis with Trojan and Cowboy nuances to how the Aggies often reflected elements of the 49ers’ so-called West Coast offense paid major dividends as UCD earned regular-season-ending No. 1 rankings in 1982 and 1985. On both sides of the San Francisco Bay, Walsh’s and Sochor’s teams were laying the wood to their foes. While Sochor continued to capture league titles, Walsh was winning three Super Bowls.

365体育投注“I know Bill Walsh was around a lot,” Aggie head coach Dan Hawkins says of those early 1980s days. “Until then, (the offense) was USC, Raiders, Cowboys stuff. Then when Coach got with Walsh, we got more into the split backs, offset. We changed up our protection roles, too — which threw me for a loop for a while.”

Walsh and Sochor were technical in their approaches to offense. The fact that UCD had a reputation for smart student-athletes helped, as more and more intricacy crept into the Aggie attack.

Walsh’s son Craig, a favorite receiver of O’Brien’s during that 1982 run to the D-II national championship game, talked about the transition from more of a power game to short passes targeting players in space:

“The offense we ran in Davis when I was first there? We ran the Cowboys’ with their terminology. We used ‘haw’ for left and ‘gee’ for right — and we would do like the Cowboys, double-set before the snap of the ball.

365体育投注“Remember? You’d put your hand down, come up and hit your thigh pads and put your hands back down. That had been Davis for many, many years.”

365体育投注Hawkins recalls going from Dallas-style to San Francisco-style football in one summer. He and Craig remember installing the West Coast offense between July and the Aggies’ opening day in 1982.

365体育投注Hackett, who joined Walsh with the 49ers in 1983, thought the transition was more gradual. Regardless of who’s right, the evolution continued the shining history of Aggie football.

365体育投注“It suited the team really well because we had multiple weapons,” Craig says. “Heck, it still does.”

Sochor, his players and staff would frequent Sierra College in Rocklin after San Francisco moved its summer camp there from Santa Clara in 1980.

Aggie Pride already included little things like not letting one’s helmet touch the ground, while Walsh didn’t condone kneeling on the sidelines or letting the ball hit the field during workouts. Hawkins remembers watching 49ers like Jerry Rice and Roger Craig catch short passes during camp, then run the remaining 60 or 70 yards to the end zone — just to get used to the idea that the goal line was, ah, the goal.

Hawkins remembers that the NFL strike season (1982) provided Walsh with time on his hands to visit Davis regularly. Donna Sochor says Bill would be around to play tennis with Jim, watch his son play and “exchange all that football knowledge.”

365体育投注“I remember when Walsh was on campus it was like ‘Elvis is in the building,’ ” Hawkins offers.

And Walsh and Sochor together was a true exchange. Jim provided Bill with the roll-out concept that Joe Montana used frequently. Fans will remember the 49ers often moving the pocket or Joe heading toward the sidelines before finding an open man (memorably like Dwight Clark for “The Catch” against Dallas in the 1982 NFL playoffs).

365体育投注Craig Walsh and Hackett also remember Bill being “in awe” of Jim’s organization and the longevity of his winning ways. “My dad studied everything Jim did, regarding putting things together,” Craig Walsh says.

365体育投注And for Hawkins, who prowls Jim Sochor Field at the UC Davis Healkth Stadium, “Walsh obviously changed the game … and his style of coaching fit with Coach Sochor.

365体育投注“They both brought a high degree of detail, but I think it was also how they brought the intangibles of how you run a practice and affect people (that) made them special … and friends.”

— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or call 530-320-4456.


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