For Dick Trachok, coaching in Reno was a way to avoid the mines | NevadaAppeal.com
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For Dick Trachok, coaching in Reno was a way to avoid the mines

By Joe Santoro For the Nevada Appeal

Dick Trachok led a true sporting life.

“My dad worked in the coal mines and I got into athletics to get out of the mines,” Trachok, who died Aug. 2 at the age of 94, told the Reno Gazette-Journal in 1986. “I decided in high school I wanted to be a coach.”

Trachok, the youngest of seven children of Lithuanian-born parents, was an athlete, coach and administrator for nearly five decades. It all began for Trachok in high school (1939-42) when he was known as “Stretch” Trachok, the three-sport (football, basketball, track) star for the Conemaugh Township Indians near his Pennsylvania hometown of Jerome.

Trachok then flourished for a season (1943) for the nearby University of Pittsburgh Panthers as a versatile, gritty and speedy fullback for legendary coach Clark Shaughnessy. After two years (1944-45) in the Army Air Corps during World War II, Trachok then moved west with his former Conemaugh Township and Pitt Panther teammate Tommy Kalmanir to star for some of the most successful Wolf Pack football and track teams in school history from 1946-48.

Trachok and Kalmanir, lifelong friends, both had the same goal. To get out of Jerome and stay out of the mines.

“You have to live back there to understand a town like Jerome,” Kalmanir, who passed away in 2004, told the Reno Evening Gazette in 1965. “Athletic ability got us out of there. People without it are still there to this day.”

After playing his final football season for the Wolf Pack in 1948, Trachok’s athletic career ended and his coaching career began. Not yet 23 years old, and still a student at Nevada, Trachok was hired in December 1948 as the first head basketball coach at a new school five miles east of Reno on Glendale Avenue on the former Flick Ranch called Bishop Manogue.

The Miners had no tradition or history and didn’t even have a home gym. But, for Trachok, it sure beat heading to a Pennsylvania coal mine each morning to earn a living.

“In Jerome, the fellow who coached football didn’t work in the mines,” Trachok told the Reno Gazette-Journal in 1965. “That was something.”

Trachok’s Miners, led by Frank Sullivan, Julio Chavez, Tom Kessenich, Joe Luchetti, Leo Mennicucci and Wayne Clark, didn’t win a lot of games. And their games didn’t even count in the Western Nevada Conference standings that first year. But the Miners were invited to the conference tournament at the end of the year where they beat Lovelock in their first game.

A week after the basketball season ended with a 52-14 loss to Reno High in the conference tournament, Trachok was suddenly a hot young coach.

The Reno Huskies named him as their new head track coach in the middle of March 1949. Trachok, still just 23 and a few months shy of earning his college degree, was now headed to his second coaching job at the biggest high school in the state of Nevada.

Two weeks after that, in late March, Trachok then got another job at Reno High. The Huskies now wanted the former Pack star to take over their highly successful football program in addition to coaching track.

The coal mines of Pennsylvania now seemed like a million miles away. Trachok, who less than a year before was carrying the ball for the Pack with Kalmanir, now had the best high school coaching job in the state of Nevada and he was still a Wolf Pack student.

Things were also falling into place for his buddy Kalmanir. Named the Bishop Manogue head track coach after Trachok left for Reno High, Kalmanir signed a contract to play for the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL in late March 1949. He would play 43 games in the NFL over four seasons, scoring six touchdowns, two on punt returns.

Reno High needed a football and track coach after the sudden and tragic death of legendary coach Herb Foster. Foster, the Huskies football and track coach as well as its athletic director since 1922, died of a heart attack on Christmas Day, 1948.

Foster won nine football state titles, six basketball state titles and three in track. Like Trachok, he played football at Nevada (in the early 1920s with star James “Rabbitt” Bradshaw) and became Reno High’s head coach before he even graduated from Nevada. The street (Foster Drive) that runs in front of Reno High is named after him now as is the football field on campus.

Trachok, who was being paid $2,820 at Reno High, was watching his dream unfold even faster than he could imagine.

In May 1949 he graduated from Nevada and in June he married his college sweetheart, Frances Sumner of Hayward, Calif. His best man was Kalmanir, who would also later marry a woman named Frances.

“He was a hard-working boy who had enthusiasm and who always gave as much as he could,” said Joe Sheetketski, Trachok’s former Wolf Pack football coach (1947-48), in 1965. “He always had a vivid picture of what he wanted to do. Coach.”

Trachok may have never worked in the Pennsylvania coal mines like his father John, but he brought the lessons of hard work, discipline, character and perseverance taught by his father, to coaching.

And the Huskies won big under Trachok right from the start.

Reno, which hadn’t won a state title since 1939, never lost a game in Trachok’s first year as head coach in 1949. The Huskies went 10-0, beating Las Vegas 19-13 on Thanksgiving in Las Vegas, to win the state title. Ron Engle scored on a 4-yard run and quarterback Don Kronemeyer scored on a 1-yard run as Trachok’s early Reno teams rarely threw the ball.

Trachok’s first Reno team outscored the opposition, on average, 30-9. The Huskies beat Hawthorne, Bishop Manogue, Fallon, Carson and Stewart in succession by a combined score of 163-21. Kronemeyer led an offense (Trachok taught them Shaughnessy’s T-formation) that was led by a stable of backs that included Paul Vietti, Bill Kottinger, Gary Pickens, Ron Coleman, Engle and Howdy Davis. They ran behind a line led by Don Fife, Bob Lazovich, Wally Rusk, Buddy Piazzo, Matt Gerbatz and Phil Waterman. Claude Mabry and Bill Gadda also were keys to the title run.

Vietti recovered a blocked punt in the end zone to beat Lassen 19-18 in the season opener. Fife also recovered two fumbles in the win. Two wins over Sparks, one in the Western Conference title game, keyed the season.

It was more of the same in 1950. Holdovers Engle, Rusk, Gadda, Davis and Coleman were joined by newcomers Johnny Rodriguez, Blaine Henriksen, Jerry Lazzari, Henry DeRicco, Joe Leal, Don Pringle, Bill Warren and Roger Trounday as the Huskies went 9-0-1 to win the state title once again, 12-6 over Las Vegas at Mackay Stadium in Reno. The only game that didn’t end in a Reno victory was a 7-7 tie with Bishop Manogue (now in its third season) in the second game of the year.

DeRicco had an important interception late in the game to seal the victory over Las Vegas. Coleman and Engle combined to run for 127 yards on 32 carries.

Henriksen had three touchdowns and Engle had 167 yards and two scores in a 38-2 win over Carson.

Trachok was now unbeaten over 20 consecutive games over two years with two state titles on his resume. And he was still 24 years old.

Trachok’s third Reno team in 1951 also went undefeated. The Huskies, which added standout lineman Don Manoukian as well as Bob Ernst, Don Bissett, Donald Long and halfback Danny Hellman, whipped every team it played in 1951 except two. The Huskies tied McClatchy of Sacramento (13-13) and Las Vegas (6-6) in the title game.

Both the Huskies and Las Vegas shared the state title in 1951 because of the tie at Las Vegas’ Butcher Field. DeRicco scored Reno’s only touchdown against Las Vegas. Las Vegas’ only score came on a 30-yard return of an interception.

The game was witnessed by the largest crowd in the history of Nevada high school sports at the time (4,500).

After three seasons as a coach Trachok was now unbeaten in 31 games with a record of 28-0-3 with three state titles. His teams scored 19 or more points in 27 of the 31 games and had allowed more than 18 just once, in a 48-20 win over White Pine in 1951.

The 1952 Huskies went 8-2 and added Trachok’s fourth consecutive state title because of a 19-0 win over Las Vegas (at Mackay Stadium) and a 28-7 win over Elko in the season finale.

The only two losses were to Shasta (Redding, Calif.), 20-13, and McClatchy, 13-7, in the second and third games of the season, ending Trachok’s unbeaten streak at 32 games to start his coaching career. The loss to Shasta in Week Two was the Huskies’ first loss since Thanksgiving Day 1948 against Sparks.

Reno, which wore all-red uniforms in 1952, responded to its two losses by winning its last seven games by a combined score of 290-38. The Huskies played the majority of their home games in 1952 at the new Foster Field. The first game on the new field was a 47-6 win over Sparks in the fourth game of the year.

Reno’s 1952 season also featured a 74-0 win at Ely over White Pine. Quarterback Ken Fujii threw a touchdown pass and returned a punt for a score. Bob Miranda, Hank DeRicco and Charlie Harmon each had two touchdowns. Frank Keever also returned a fumble for a score as the Huskies scored 11 touchdowns and had eight extra points (all points after touchdown were worth just one point, either by kicking or running or throwing the ball into the end zone).

Trachok was now 36-2-3 after four seasons with four state titles.

“Even in Dick’s first year at Nevada (1946) we remarked that he had the ability to go a long way in this business,” Wolf Pack athletic director Jake Lawlor said at Reno High’s postseason banquet in 1952. “We at the university are proud that one of our alumni has such a fine record at the local high school. We have been watching his success with a lot of interest.”

Trachok’s Huskies, though, then experienced their first taste of adversity in 1953 and 1954, when the state first organized schools into Class 1A, 2A and 3A according to enrollment. The Huskies turned in back-to-back 3-4 and 4-6 seasons although just one of the 10 losses was against a Northern Nevada team. The other nine came against Shasta (twice), Boise, Klamath Falls (twice), Chico, Christian Brothers of Sacramento and Las Vegas (twice). A state-record 7,500 fans saw Las Vegas beat the Huskies 34-0 at Butcher Field in 1953.

The end of the Huskies’ 1954 season involved one of the more unique high school football matchups in state history. The Huskies, thanks to three touchdown runs by Dale Prevost, beat an all-star team comprised of Bishop Manogue and Sparks High players, 20-6, to conclude the 1954 season at Mackay. The game, attended by 4,000 fans, was a benefit for the families of Gene Mastroianni and Alf Sorensen, two former Wolf Pack athletes who were involved in an auto accident officiating a football game at Winnemucca that season. Mastroianni died in the crash and Sorensen was severely injured.

Trachok’s Huskies returned to prominence in 1955 and 1956, winning the Class 3A state title both years.

The 1955 team went 6-3, losing three games in a row at mid-season to Christian Brothers, Klamath Falls and Elko, but finishing with wins over Red Bluff and Las Vegas.

The 14-7 win over Las Vegas took place in front of 5,500 fans at Butcher Field in Las Vegas. Roy Landeros scored both of the Reno touchdowns on runs of 54 and 66 yards.

The Huskies in the mid-1950s also played in the Northern Interstate Conference that included California schools Shasta, Chico, Christian Brothers and Red Bluff as well as Klamath Falls of Oregon. The Huskies tied for first in the N.I.C. after a pivotal 19-7 win over Red Bluff as Duane Ford picked off three passes.

The 1955 state champs, which wore blue jerseys, were led by quarterbacks Fred Black and Ford as well as linemen Noel Manoukian, Ted Berrum, Alex Kanwetz, John McDowell, Ron Williams, Max Culp, Tony Iacometti, Sam Kane, Mickey McBride and Mike Thompson. The backfield was loaded with Jim Gardner, Phil Herrington, Landeros, Dan Lindeman, John Wall, Tom Clark, Lewis Leavitt and Fernando Martino.

The 1956 Huskies were even better than in 1955. Reno went 8-1 with its only loss coming against Red Bluff 19-13. The 1956 Huskies, whose defense was bolstered by Lynn Stiles and Bill Daniel, among others, beat Rancho (Las Vegas) and Las Vegas by identical 13-7 scores to open the year. Rancho mustered just 28 total yards of offense. Ford tossed a 23-yard touchdown pass to Tom Clark with 15 seconds left to beat Las Vegas. The Huskies outgained Las Vegas 303-38.

The Huskies beat Chico 19-7 as Fred Kotter tossed a halfback pass to Jim Murphy for a touchdown and flipped a lateral to Ford on a punt return and one to Tom Clark for two more scores.

The last two games were back-to-back shutouts over Klamath Falls (26-0) and Sparks (13-0). The Huskies outscored the opposition by a combined 192-68 for the season and held teams to seven or fewer points in seven of nine games.

Trachok now had six state titles in eight seasons as a high school football coach. His final two years at Reno High, in 1957 and 1958, produced a lot of victories (a 13-5 combined record) but no state titles despite the presence of one of the greatest prep players in Nevada history in Ed Pine.

Las Vegas beat Reno 13-7 in 1957 (Freeman Mattson scored Reno’s only touchdown) and ended up winning the 3A title.

Trachok’s father John also died early in the 1957 football season back in Jerome, Pa., at the age of 72.

The following year, in 1958, the Huskies lost to Rancho (14-7) and Chico (21-7) as Basic (of Las Vegas) won the state title, ending a nine-year run of Las Vegas and/or Reno being crowned champion. The 1958 Huskies, though, had three shutouts, including a 13-0 win over Las Vegas.

Lynn Stiles, who would go on to a long coaching career in college football and the NFL, recovered a fumble in the third quarter in the win over Las Vegas that led to a 1-yard touchdown run by Mattson.

The 1958 season also included a thrilling 31-27 win over Red Bluff as Steve Arch, Mattson, Tom Crossett and Bill Mortensen all had rushing touchdowns. Joe Hesse scored three touchdowns and Crossett had two in a 37-7 win over Anderson, Calif.

The 1958 Huskies, though, suffered their first loss at home since 1955 (to Chico, 21-7).

After nine seasons Trachok had a record of 70-21-3 with six state titles. Just two of his 21 losses (both to Elko) came against Northern Nevada teams. He was 8-4-2 against Las Vegas teams. The bulk of his losses (15 of 21) came against teams from Oregon, California and Idaho.

“Coach Dick Trachok is kind of like (New York Yankees manager) Casey Stengel,” said Nevada Department of School Administration Chairman Dr. Thomas Tucker at the Huskies postseason banquet in 1958. “He couldn’t have done all the winning without the players.”

Trachok certainly had quality players at Reno High. Stiles went on to play at Utah before starting his long coaching career. Manoukian starred at Stanford and later played for the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders before becoming a very successful professional wrestler. Pine also played at Utah and with the 49ers and Pittsburgh Steelers. Fujii later quarterbacked the Wolf Pack before becoming one of the more successful girls basketball coaches in Nevada high school history. Many of Trachok’s Reno High players in the 1950s went on to highly successful careers out of sports, becoming community leaders.

Trachok’s high school coaching career, though, came to a close in April 1959 when the Wolf Pack named him its next head football coach. Just 33 years old, Trachok’s wildest dreams were reality. His salary was $8,500 a year and he didn’t have to mine one piece of coal to get it.

Trachok never won as often with the Wolf Pack as he did at Reno High, going 40-47-3 from 1959 through 1968. At one point the Pack lost 14-of-15 games (from late 1963 to early 1965) and Trachok was hung in effigy on campus by students.

“Nobody is trying to lose,” Trachok said in response.

The Wolf Pack football program that Trachok guided, though, had very little in common with the Wolf Pack now up on North Virginia Street, or even the one Trachok played for in the 1940s.

The Wolf Pack program under Trachok had almost no budget, didn’t offer scholarships and had almost no expectations of national success.

Trachok, though, kept the program respectable throughout his era and also changed the direction of Wolf Pack sports forever. It was Trachok, after all, that recruited a quarterback out of Southern California by the name of Chris Ault in 1964 and later, when he was athletic director (1969-86), named Ault the Pack football head coach in 1976.

Trachok didn’t win any championships as Pack coach but he took over a Wolf Pack program in 1959 that had won just 13 games since 1948 and gave it stability.

“I always felt that for the amount of money we (the university) spent when I was coaching we won more than our share,” Trachok said in 1986 when he resigned as athletic director.

During Trachok’s years as athletic director the Wolf Pack went from a Division II independent to a Division I-AA football power. Lawlor Events Center and Peccole Park were built and Mackay Stadium, which Trachok and Ault opened in 1966, was expanded. Trachok also hired legendary Pack coaches like Ault, Gary Powers in baseball and Jim Padgett, Jim Carey and Sonny Allen in men’s basketball.

“I’m not naïve to think I built them,” said the forever humble Trachok in 1986 of Lawlor and Peccole.

Trachok’s non-existent ego was such that he wanted everyone to think that he simply was in the right place at the right time during his playing, coaching and administrative careers when good things happened, that he was sort of the Wolf Pack’s Forrest Gump.

“I just got lucky,” he said often when describing his career.