CONCORD Now that he has pulled his headset off for the final time, the most reluctant coaching celebrity in Northern California the past 34 seasons offers an easy answer to a not-so-easy query.
Specifically, can De La Salle football be the same without coach Bob Ladouceur?
He countered with raised eyebrows and a steely stare: "Of course."
More pressing for this region is this: Will the Sac-Joaquin Section finally score one against the Spartans, the trend-setting program that has won five CIF state championships since 2006 and finished No. 1 in the nation nine times since 1991, including this season by ESPN and MaxPreps?
Ladouceur retired Friday for a less-demanding role within the program coaching running backs on various levels but he takes with him a great deal of the program mystique, too.
De La Salle just won't be the same without De La Bob. He downplays this, of course, insisting new coach Justin Alumbaugh, a longtime assistant, has "greatness in him."
That may be true, but Ladouceur has been the face of the Spartans, and arguably all of Northern California football, since taking over at age 24 in 1979.
Ladouceur won a state-record 399 games with more North Coast Section championships (28) than losses (25). He had 20 unbeaten seasons and five one-loss campaigns. He never had a losing season.
"We brought a whole new level of respect to Northern California over the years," Ladouceur said. "Southern California teams thought they could trounce anyone north of Bakersfield. We were cutting-edge. Our success was good for all of Northern California. It validated what we're all doing . I think we'll be just fine. I'd still be coaching if I didn't think the perfect guy wasn't taking over."
Ladouceur said Alumbaugh has "passed me up" on some coaching ideals, adding, "It wasn't fair to him to have to wait any longer. He's ready now."
Still, veteran De La Salle assistant Terry Eidson cracked, "With St. Lad here, 'Good luck, Justin.' "
De La Salle fears no foe, and that won't change. Still, Alumbaugh is aware of Sacramento-area teams, particularly with NorCal Regional games now in play. Folsom had the first crack at De La Salle last month at Sacramento State, which expects to be the home venue for more Open showcase games. Could Folsom get a rematch next season? What about Granite Bay? Or Del Oro, Grant, Pleasant Grove, Franklin or Elk Grove?
Alumbaugh understands the perception De La Salle just became a bit more vulnerable without Ladouceur at the controls. Under Ladouceur, De La Salle went 32-0 against the Sac-Joaquin Section and 5-0 against Sacramento-area teams. Against Northern California competition, De La Salle is 236-0-2 since 1991 and 322-5-2 since '84.
"NorCal football doesn't always get the respect it deserves," Alumbaugh said. "We watched Granite Bay win the D-I state title this year and rooted for them. We've seen Grant and Del Oro over the years . To say it's only De La Salle in NorCal and no one else is naive and foolish, and it diminishes what the other teams have done."
Ladouceur said Alumbaugh is a better coach than he was when he took over. They share the same instincts of the game, the same passion to teach. Even now, Ladouceur admits he doesn't grasp his impact on high school football and scores of his players.
"I really don't," he said. "Maybe it's because it's my home here, and I don't stray. This is all I know. I was fortunate enough to find something I was good at, and gifted in, and I understood the game and had a good feel for it. I felt comfortable right away. It comes naturally for me. It does for Justin, too."