May 28, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

It’s the 50th anniversary of Uni football and Dick Roche has been there for almost every season

Long-time University assistant coach Dick Roche provides instruction to players last week. (Photos courtesy Harrison Zhang, For OC Sports Zone)

University High’s football program will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this fall and Dick Roche has been there for almost of it.

To see the slide show, please click on the first photo

The 78-year-old Roche, who has lived in Irvine since 1980, is showing no signs of slowing up and will be on the coaching staff for new head coach Chris Hernandez.

“I still need that Friday night buzz and I still enjoy working with the kids and I like what I do breaking down game film,” Roche said. “Being up in the booth, it’s kind of an antiseptic thing where you’re away from the game, but you’re totally involved in it.”

Roche, who was head football coach for University from 1975 to 1978, is now getting ready to help out Hernandez, the seventh head coach he has worked for.

“Coach Hernandez is a young, enthusiastic coach who will do very well at Uni,” Roche said.

The 33-year-old Hernandez was pleased that Roche decided to stay on.

“He’s just such a staple in Uni culture, he’s been here forever and he’s a great resource and knows everybody,” Hernandez said.

Roche will put his resources together along with one of Uni’s former head coaches Mark Cunningham. The two will be coming up with a 50th anniversary team to celebrate the milestone.

Roche will be in his familiar spot in the coaching booth at the University stadium when the Trojans play their first game.

“My main coaching responsibilities this year will be to break down our opponent’s offensive tendencies and then help defensive coordinator Aron Kaye coordinate what we will do defensively for that game,” Roche said. “I will also be in the coaching booth during the game charting our opponents to see if their tendencies hold up during the game.”

Roche had been an assistant coach at Pasadena High from 1964 to 1970 before going to University in 1971, where he joined the Trojans first coach, Jerry Redman, who was the head coach from 1970 to 1974.

A number of friends had moved from Pasadena to Orange County, prompting Roche to make a similar move with his family. At a coaching clinic in 1971, Roche noticed a booth that University had and the school was looking for football coaches.

“I talked to Coach Redman and the fact that I was currently coaching at Pasadena (which was in the top five or 10 of the large football schools in CIF every year) got his interest,” Roche said. “He asked if I wanted to do a formal interview at the school and I did a few weeks later and was offered the job starting in the fall of 1971.”

Roche then accepted the head coaching job when Redman stepped down. At the time, University was part of the Tustin Union High School District which included Tustin, Foothill and Mission Viejo and played home games at Tustin and Mission Viejo, since Irvine Stadium was not built yet.

The Trojans were in the Orange League initially with schools such as Saddleback, Sonora and El Dorado before moving to the South Coast League and then the Sea View League.

The Trojans were highly competitive in Roche’s first year as head coach and had their best shot of securing a CIF playoff berth in his tenure.

“We lost to San Clemente in the last game of the season in the first year,” Roche said. “We were 6-3 after San Clemente beat us and then after the game there was a three-way tie for second between Mission Viejo, El Toro and us, so we tossed the coin and I ended up odd man out, so we lose the game 14-7 and then I lose the coin toss, so we don’t get to go to the playoffs.

“Then the last three years, we were like 3-6,” he said.

Roche, after four years, decided he would step down as head football coach but he wanted to continue on as an assistant coach. He remained as athletic director.

“As my kids (Darren and Dena) were getting older and they were getting into young programs in the late 70’s, I decided that I would stay as AD, I would still coach varsity with whoever came in,” he said.

Roche eventually retired from teaching in 2005 after 41 years, seven at Pasadena and 34 in the Irvine Unified School District. He taught social science.

“I’ve been an assistant for all the other coaches at Uni,” he said. “I was also AD from the mid 70’s to the mid 80’s.”

Roche said he’s been influenced by all the Uni head coaches. The other main influence in his coaching career was Tom Hamilton at Pasadena “because he was willing to gamble on a young coach when he moved me from the B team at Pasadena to the varsity the last three years I was there.

“He also taught me how to properly break down game film; truly film then, looking for opponent’s game tendencies. He was a master at that and I still use his techniques today.”

Among the head coaches Roche has worked with was Cunningham, who retired after 32 years at University.

“The great thing I learned from working 32 years with Mark Cunningham was that each player is also an individual and you need to learn how to get some kids to buy in to the team concept,” Roche said.

Roche has had many memories. He was the head coach when University won the Fence Post Trophy for the first time in 1978 with a 20-14 victory over Irvine. At that time, only Uni and Irvine were battling for it.

Roche’s other memories:

—In 1974, when University rallied from a 20-0 halftime deficit to defeat El Toro 21-20.

—In 1991 when the Trojans had a big win against Garden Grove in the CIF playoffs.

“We were a wild card in our division and Garden Grove was the number two seed, “Roche said. “We beat them 7-0.”

—-The Trojans playoff run when they moved on to the semifinals in 1991.

“After beating Garden Grove, we beat Savanna in the second round and played Tustin in the semifinals, the only time we have been to the semi-finals,” Roche said. “Tustin had beaten us in league 14-6 and beat us that night 14-7, but the atmosphere at Irvine Stadium was electric and crowded.

—-A game in 2002 when University faced Western in the CIF playoffs.

“We fell behind 14-0 in the second quarter and then came back to beat them 34-20,” Roche said.

—A game against Irvine in 2007 against Irvine.

“Both of us came into the league game 6-0 and the stadium was packed and had that electric feel in pre-game,” Roche said. ” It was close at halftime, but we won 31-14.

Roche said he’s also been “fortunate to be one of the South coaches” in five Orange County all-star football games.

In 1996, helped Cunningham, in 1999 and 2012, he worked with Rick Gibson and his Woodbridge staff, in 2004 he helped Rick Curtis and his Northwood staff and in 2012, he teamed up with Bruce Ingalls and his Laguna Hills coaches.

Roche shows no signs of retiring but his all-star career may have come to a close.

“I don’t think I want to coach in another game because I have been fortunate to be 4-0-1 in the five games and I don’t want to ruin the record,” Roche said.

-Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com