Cordova High School yearbook, 1973

Dewey Guerra was Cordova High's first football coach and guided the Lancers to the nation's most victories in the 1970s.

Hometown Report: 'Silver Fox' Guerra left behind a golden legacy

Published: Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012 - 11:33 am | Page 2C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 - 8:06 pm

The man known as "The Silver Fox" spent a good part of his life in a storage room, surrounded by shoulder pads and helmets that emanated odors only a coach could savor.

Dewey Guerra would squint at 8 mm game film – flickering black-and-white images of blocking and tackling – projected onto a wall. This was his pleasure zone in the 1960s and early '70s at Cordova High School. With attention to detail, Guerra, who died Thursday at age 85, created the region's greatest football dynasty, the Big Red Machine.

His legacy still resonates.

Guerra battled health ailments in recent years. In 2010, amid a flood of emotion, he shared how heartsick he felt following the death of his beloved wife, Bonnie, who charted plays with him on scouting trips and was never too far from his side.

"What a great man and a great coach," said Cordova baseball coach Guy Anderson, who started coaching the Lancers in the 1960s. "The Silver Fox – that name fit, and I have such nice memories of him in that storage room with film, taping it when it broke. 'Look at the guard there!' If there was a basic, standard mold of a football coach, how to do it the right way, it was Dewey Guerra."

Anderson said he admired how Guerra used simple dive plays and discipline to create the Lancers' legacy.

"He's the father of some of the best football this area has seen," Anderson said.

Guerra took a chance in 1963 and struck gold. He left his state-ranked Folsom High program to take on the challenge of a new school – Cordova. Guerra proudly boasted over the decades that he bought the 12th house built in Rancho Cordova, on a cul-de-sac not too far from the football field.

Guerra was in the eye of the perfect storm at Cordova. The Lancers had a dream coaching staff, including Max Miller, Tom Doherty and Ron Lancaster. Nearby Mather Air Force Base produced scores of military sons, including Jerry Manuel, who at Cordova became an All-America flanker in 1971 before a major league baseball career. Mitchell and Mills middle schools were feeder programs that played tackle football.

The Lancers went 1-8-1 in their first varsity season in 1963. By 1965, the Lancers found their stride. They led the nation in victories in the 1970s at 106-7-1 and produced a still-standing Sac-Joaquin Section record 28 consecutive winning seasons, through 1993.

Guerra introduced the region to the wishbone, a power run game made even better with a speed element. He was known to lean against goal posts and study practice, inhaling a cigarette, barking, "Come on, baby!"

Guerra's 1975 team was the first in Northern California to finish No. 1 in the country. More recently, De La Salle in Concord became the second.

Guerra's 11-0 team that season was his last at Cordova. It featured quarterback Scott Jenner and running backs Max Venable, Jeff Allen and Reggie Young.

Guerra coached several seasons at American River College before retiring, but he always kept an eye on the Lancers.

Lancaster took over at Cordova and won four section titles. Miller took over in 1981 and led the section in victories the next 10 seasons with 108, including the section's first 14-0 team in 1985. Doherty won championships at Folsom and is that school's winningest coach. Miller, Lancaster and Doherty, all retired, say Guerra was their mentor.

"Dewey took us all under his wing," Miller said. "He said running the ball was the best way to see how tough our guys were and how tough the opponent was. He called me every week, right up to last week with that deep, growly voice, 'Damn it, Max! For cripes sake!' I'm going to really miss those calls."

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