Aptos High’s Randy Blankenship will officially join the state’s 300 club among football coaches with 300 varsity wins when his team collects its next triumph. It will be a group of just 12 in more than 100 years. He’ll be the first to do it from stops at more than two schools and for him it’s been seven. We talked with him this week about a career that began more than 40 years ago as an assistant coach at Mira Loma of Sacramento.
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(Those lists will be updated again at the end of this season. We’d also like to congratulate the newest coach for that list, which will be Ed Croson from Chaminade of West Hills. He won his 200th game just last week.)
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Every year after the last few football seasons have concluded, even the one that was just a few games last spring due to the pandemic, Rhoda Blankenship has asked a simple question of her football head coaching husband, Randy: “Are you done yet?”
The 68-year-old who has been a high school head coach since 1984 and since 2010 in the Santa Cruz County coastal town of Aptos has had the same answer: “Nope.”
The process of weight training in the winter, further preparations in the spring and it all leading to a 10-week regular season in the fall (plus playoffs) remains an activity that Blankenship fully enjoys. And the fact that Aptos gives himself and his wife access to another activity they both fully enjoy — going to the beach — only makes the coaching feel even less like a job.
So far, here’s a synopsis of what Blankenship “has done” in a head coaching career that has included stops at seven different high schools from two states and four different CIF sections:
*According to the Cal-Hi Sports coaching records (which doesn’t count forfeits), Blankenship will earn his 300th career win whenever the Mariners win their next game. That could be as quickly as Saturday at Christopher of Gilroy. He’d just be the 12th in state history to gain that milestone.
*Blankenship is believed to be the only head coach in state history to have won CIF section titles in three different CIF sections. He won his last in 2018 at Aptos in the CIF Central Coast Section. His others were at the very highest levels of competition (top divisions) at Clovis West of Fresno (CIF Central Section) and Fallbrook (CIF San Diego Section).
*In 1998, Randy was selected as the Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year for a championship season at Clovis West and in 2000 he was named as the NFL High School Coach of the Year.
Inside the 300th Win
If one were counting forfeit wins, which haven’t been done since the Cal-Hi Sports records began to be kept in the 1980s by founder Nelson Tennis, Blankenship already would be above 300. Counting from the last time the Cal-Hi Sports records were updated, which was after the 2020 spring season, the total for Blankenship was 294 (not counting forfeits). The next win for this season will be the sixth.
“I never got into it for a number of wins,” said Blankenship, echoing the comments of every coach ever talked to about getting a milestone victory. “The first time I really thought about it was during a bus ride to last week’s game. I thought about all of the people we’ve met and it became an emotional ride. As long as I can have an impact on these kids’ lives and it continues to be fun, I will just keep coaching.”
No other coach with 300 or more wins has done it at more than two schools. Blankenship will be doing it with seven (including one in Texas). Going even deeper among the nearly 120 that have won 200 or more games, the only two coaches on that list who did it at seven or more are Don Markham (known mostly for teams at Bloomington) and John Tyree (who at 82 years old is still coaching this season at Banning High of Banning). Markham, who died in 2018 at age 78, served at eight different high schools. Tyree is currently the head coach at his 12th different high school. He won his first game at Banning just last week.
Blankenship has four out-of-state wins from one season at Granbury (Texas), which is significant to mention because there are others on the all-time state list with out-of-state wins that are not counted. This is because in the early years of the state records it wasn’t possible to confirm any out-of-state records through newspaper research at the California state library. In more recent years, with the internet, that isn’t an issue any more.
The most amazing fact from Blankenship joining the 300-win club is that he himself coached one of the other members. This was when Randy was in his first year in his first job as an assistant coach at Mira Loma High (Sacramento). He wasn’t very much older than some of the players, but one of them was senior Kevin Rooney. That’s the same Kevin Rooney who retired after the 2019 season after coaching for 40 years at Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks.
Rooney became the ninth coach with 300 wins in 2017. Bruce Rollinson of Santa Ana Mater Dei won his 300th in the first game of 2018 (the school celebrated it in 2017 counting forfeits). The 11th was Mike Herrington from Hart of Newhall in 2019.
There are three other graduates of Mira Loma remarkably who also are on the 200-win coaching list: Mike Alberghini from Grant of Sacramento, Terry Stark (known mostly for his years at Inderkum of Sacramento) and Dave Humphers, who is the coach who took over at Nevada Union after Blankenship left for Clovis West.
“I was an assistant in the last year that Don Brown was at Mira Loma and then worked under head coach Gerry Kundert,” Blankenship recalled. “It was a luxury to be with Don, Gerry and my older brother (Rick) in those early years. We all learned a ton. Dave came with me from NU as my defensive coordinator and we still see each other at least once every two or three years.”
Nevada Union (Grass Valley)
As the interview process was underway to find a new head coach of the Miners prior to the 1984 season, the athletic director at the time, Pat Houlihan, had a meeting with the superintendent. As Blankenship tells it, Houlihan said, “I think there is something there with Randy.”
Nevada Union made the correct choice and was winning league titles quickly. Blankenship’s ability to teach kids how to run the Wing-T offense (which is what Mira Loma itself did in the 1970s) came through quickly as well.
Two of the best teams that Blankenship ever coached were at Nevada Union in 1989 and 1990. The Miners were 13-1 in 1989 and were No. 5 in the final Cal-Hi Sports Class AAAA state rankings. They didn’t win CIF Sac-Joaquin Section titles, however, because in those same two years Merced had two of the best SJS teams ever. The Bears won in a matchup of 13-0 teams, 31-29, in 1989 and won in 1990, 21-12, when they were 14-0 again and were No. 1 in the state.
Those last two NU teams generated a lot of interest in Blankenship for other jobs. He saw an opportunity at Clovis West of Fresno and decided to make the move. Dave Humphers moved up from Blankenship’s staff to take over the head coaching job, continued to keep the Miners among the best programs in the Sac-Joaquin Section and stayed until he retired from teaching and coaching in 2013. Humphers still helps with coaching at River Valley High in Yuba City.
“That was like my first and greatest love affair,” Blankenship reflected on his NU days. “All of the people, kids and coaches were really close. It was special. I cried from Grass Valley all the way down to Fresno.”
Clovis West (Fresno)
When he got going at Clovis West in 1991, the Golden Eagles were chasing their big rivals from Clovis High, which was unbeaten in Blankenship’s first season there. He started a run of success from 1992 to 1998, however, that remains one of the most dominant for any school in CIF Central Section history.
The highest ranked of four CIF Central Section Division I championship teams was in 1993 as Blankenship’s squad finished No. 3 in the state, with the only two teams ahead being Eisenhower of Rialto (its 1993 team is still regarded as one of the best in CIF Southern Section history) and De La Salle of Concord (in year two of its national record 151-game win streak). Clovis West featured one of the best running backs in Fresno area history, McKay Christensen, and was undefeated for the second year in a row. The Golden Eagles were No. 4 in the final state rankings in 1995 with a third unbeaten, section title team in four years. They made it four titles in seven years with a 12-1 squad in 1998.
“They gave me everything needed for a program to be successful,” Blankenship said. “A lot of the parents from Clovis West and I still get together to this day. Our teams there in the 1990s would have played anybody and would have played with anybody.”
Two of Blankenship’s best memories at Clovis West was taking a trip in 1998 to Massillon, Ohio, for a game against one of the most famous programs in U.S. history (the Golden Eagles won 21-9) and going to the Santa Ana Bowl to play Bruce Rollinson’s program at Mater Dei also in 1998. The Monarchs won by seven points but lost to Clovis West the next season after Blankenship had left for Fallbrook.
Blankenship described the biggest mistake he ever made in his coaching career as leaving Fallbrook after just two seasons (1999-2000) to see what he could do as a head football coach in Texas.
“We loved it there and could have stayed there forever,” he said. “I love avocados and it was close to the beach.”
Fallbrook also had that one-town, one-team vibe that Blankenship enjoyed so much at Nevada Union. And similar to Clovis West, it only took one season for the Warriors to win the CIF San Diego Section title. With Blankenship’s Wing-T offense clicking on all cylinders, they did it in 2000, coming back from two losses in the regular season, and were No. 11 in the final state rankings.
At that point in his coaching career, Blankenship said he still wanted to try college coaching and knew that some Texas high school coaches were able to make that jump. “There has never been a lot of movement like that in California,” he added.
It quickly became apparent to Blankenship, however, that the super-intense world of Texas prep football was not for him. Granbury is still a school of about 2,000 students in a town of about 8,000 located just outside the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
“It’s 24 hours a day and seven days per week,” he said. “There’s a lot of great things about it, probably the best is that Texas football coaches have the largest lobby in the state. Everyone has to go to the Texas Coaching School every year and there are 10,000 coaches there.”
One situation in which an assistant superintendent lost her job over a school board dispute also made Blankenship realize he’d made the wrong move for him.
“I would have always wondered how my life would have gone had I not made that move,” he said. “It was a good experience, but it was costly (moving houses like that).”
Capistrano Valley (Mission Viejo)
For the return job to California, Blankenship landed at Capistrano Valley of Mission Viejo. It wasn’t that far north of Fallbrook in the CIF Southern Section and he liked the idea of being able to compete with Capo’s rivals from Mission Viejo High, which had teams at the time being led by head coach Bob Johnson, who is still No. 3 on the all-time state list with 342 wins.
The Cougars under Blankenship, however, were only able to play Mission Viejo once (a loss). Then something happened to him there that had never happened in any of his previous stops.
“I was one of 626 employees in the Capistrano Unified school district to get a pink slip,” he said. “The principal there assured me that it will work out and that I’d be safe. But three weeks before Madera had called about being AD and football coach. I knew it might be an uphill battle there, but after thinking about it I decided to go back to the valley and Madera.”
Another something that happened to Randy and his family in that year in Mission Viejo is that they were on season one of “Meet My Folks,” a reality comedy series on NBC. It was a show in which gentlemen looking to date a daughter had to win over the affections of their parents. Randy and Rhoda were the parents and their daughter, Senta, were front and center.
One of the main reasons Blankenship knew it would be an uphill battle at Madera is that the Coyotes at the time (2003) were a large school from an enrollment standpoint and were competing in the same league with Clovis Unified schools. It would mean trying to beat not just Clovis and Clovis West but also Buchanan (and brand new Clovis East).
The Madera years for Blankenship from 2003 to 2008 were difficult indeed. There was one team in 2005 that was in the NorCal rankings before losing 17-12 to Clovis West, but he had one team there that was 1-9 and another that was 3-8.
“When the schools split in Madera (with the creation of Madera South), one year the senior class at Madera went from 926 to 350,” Blankenship said. “Still, I really liked the kids there and I had a great relationship with the principal (Ron Pisk). Ron still calls me every week, complaining about our offense and defense (at Aptos). We won last week 50-6.”
Other than now being led by Randy Blankenship, Aptos High’s other football claim to fame is being the place where Super Bowl winning quarterback Trent Dilfer once played. The football stadium is named for Trent’s late son, Trevin.
“After Madera, my older son (Clint) wondered if I was not done yet with coaching,” said Blankenship. “I wasn’t sure, either. Then we heard about the job at Aptos, and he said ‘You and mom love the beach.’”
Blankenship told the athletic director at the time, Mark Dorfman (also one of the best track-and-field head coaches in CCS history), that he might only stay three or four years.
“I’m happy we’re still here. Aptos just spread its arms around me. I wasn’t sure at the beginning because everyone was so laid back. The first game I looked up as it was about to start and there were no cars coming in. Now, 30 or 40 minutes after the game, we still have a lot of cars in the lot. The kids have bought into everything and in the last few years, especially with the pandemic and COVID and everything, it really showed the character of the kids.”
While Blankenship said the coaching community in the CIF Central Coast Section also welcomed him with open arms, it’s probably been difficult trying to navigate his teams through the myriad of different CCS playoff divisions and changing playoff formats.
In 2018, when the CCS had three separate Open Divisions, Blankenship’s squad at Aptos was able to get into the CCS Open 3 bracket and won the title with a heart-pounding 35-34 victory over Sacred Heart Prep of Atherton. That earned the Mariners the first-ever NorCal regional appearance by a team from Santa Cruz County, where they fell 28-20 to McClymonds of Oakland in the D4-A game.
This year’s team made noise in the greater Bay Area rankings with a 49-0 win in its second game over perennial power Campolindo of Moraga (guided by head coach Kevin Macy, who has close to 250 all-time wins). Then came a 42-14 loss to Salinas so the likelihood is that Aptos won’t be in the CCS Open Division playoffs but may be a team to watch in D1.
“The kids really want to get another shot at Salinas because we played so bad that night,” Blankenship said. “We also still have to play another very good San Benito team.”
Away from football, the future for Randy and Rhoda also will involve grandchildren. Clint, the oldest son, now lives in Houston. Senta lives in Fresno with Cash (age 13) and Kayla (age 10). Younger son Beau Wesley also is in Fresno with granddaughter Georgia Mae (age 6).
As with the others in the 300-win club, looking ahead and not dwelling on the past (especially while they are still coaching) is a common denominator. Still, when looking at the past of Randy Blankenship, it’s one of the most interesting pasts of any coach in California history.