By Steve Breazeale
At the start of the San Clemente High School football game against Roosevelt on Sept. 9, the Tritons and those in attendance paid their respects to Allie Schaff, a legendary coaching figure in the SCHS program, with a moment of silence.
Schaff, who coached the Tritons from 1972-1987 and turned the program into an Orange County power, died on Aug. 27.
In his 15 years at the helm, Schaff compiled a 73-75-4 overall record.
Before his hiring in 1972, San Clemente had never reached the playoffs and mustered up just two winning seasons. In 1974, two years after Schaff’s arrival, the Tritons reached the postseason for the first time in school history.
Schaff, who was always dressed in a suit and hat á la Tom Landry, implemented the wishbone offense at San Clemente, which translated into instant success. From 1974-1979, San Clemente was a premier football program in the county. The team went 46-19-1 and reached the playoffs all six seasons during the stretch, claiming three South Coast League titles in the process.
The Tritons won 10 games in the 1975 and 1978 seasons, losing in the second and semifinal round of the postseason, respectively. The 1975 team was ranked No. 1 in CIF-SS Division 2-A.
In 1979, San Clemente went 8-5, finished third in league, and barnstormed its way to an improbable appearance in the Central Conference Championship game.
Current San Clemente athletic director, John Hamro, was a junior tight end on that 1979 team, and witnessed the program’s ascension. Before Schaff’s arrival, Hamro said, San Clemente was never thought of as a football destination, let alone a perennial CIF contender.
“We were no longer known as the beach kids that surfed. We were tough, and people were taking notice,” Hamro said. “For us, (Schaff) was an icon. He made it cool and popular to be a San Clemente High School football player and to be proud of it, and it wasn’t always that way.”
Schaff’s wishbone offense played an integral part of the football team’s transformation. The playbook was small, consisting mainly of designed run plays that gave the quarterback the option to hand off or keep it for a run. During the entire 1979 postseason, Hamro said the team passed the ball one time, on a short pass to the halfback in the backfield.
“Running the wishbone just builds toughness and that carried over to the defense, too. A lot of the guys went two ways back then,” Hamro said. “There was just that mentality of just tough, gritty players.”
Schaff coached dozens of players who would go on to play at the next level, including Bill Kenney, who played in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs. From 1975-1979, nine Tritons were named All-CIF.
Schaff’s coaching tree continues to have roots in the area. Don Douglass, Schaff’s former offensive line coach, remains on the Tritons staff as a freshmen team coach. Former SCHS defensive back and quarterback Mark McElroy played for the Tritons from 1974-1978, and is the head coach at Saddleback College.
Following his freshman year at Kansas, McElroy returned home to visit Schaff and the Tritons. After sitting in the team room, overhearing how Schaff and his assistants interacted with one another, he realized he wanted to pursue a career in coaching.
Schaff got McElroy his first teaching and coaching job at SCHS, and the two coached alongside one another from 1983-1986.
McElroy remembers Schaff as a humble, witty, kind man, who would do anything to help his players. McElroy couldn’t help but be influenced by his mentor.
“He was old-school. I would have to say there’s still a lot of the way he coached in terms of his style in me. He was kind of quiet for the most part and took things in and was more of a thinker,” McElroy said. “I can honestly say I probably wouldn’t be coaching if it wasn’t for coach Schaff. He had a huge influence on me.”