Jim Sochor, who transformed a moribund UC Davis football program into a national, record-setting Division II powerhouse in the 1970s and 80s and who mentored coaches and ex players until his final days, has died from a long illness with cancer.
He was 77.
Sochor died Monday night, surrounded by family.
A high school star in three sports in San Francisco, Sochor quarterbacked San Francisco State to three successive league championships in the late 1950s, where he said he was hooked with coaching leadership. He immediately got into coaching at his alma mater after graduation in 1960. He was an assistant coach at UCD from 1967-69 and became head coach in 1970. Instilling a passing attack that years later was admired up close by 49ers coaching great Bill Walsh, Sochor transformed UCD into a dynasty. The Aggies won an Division II record 18 consecutive league championships, and Socher went 156-41-5 overall with the Aggies, retiring following the 1988 season. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999.
Sochor, unassuming and scholarly looking with glasses and a game-day scarf, charmed scores of his players with stories and wit, but he was also a fierce competitor and disciplinarian. His coaching tree started the careers of many coaches, including Bob Biggs, his former quarterback who succeeded him at UCD, Chris Petersen, now at Washington, Mike Bellotti, who elevated Oregon into a national power, Dan Hawkins, who elevated Boise State, among others.
It was Sochor who convinced Petersen, an Aggies star quarterback in 1985 and '86, to give coaching a try, and he did, starting with the UCD freshmen team.
Local high school coaches who learned from "The Aggie Way" include Chris Nixon of Elk Grove.
"One of the all-time best," Nixon said said of Sochor. "He came to watch us play at Davis a few years ago. It was a thrill introducing (my sons) Sean and Scott to him. I couldn't have chosen a better college coach to play for," Said Dan Gazzaniga, a standout offensive lineman for UCD in the early 1980s, who later coached at UCD and is now an assistant at Del Oro High, "He was a very proud man who helped develop many great man, not just football players. I had lunch with him just a few weeks ago. He gave me the opportunity to stay in the game after high school and was very supportive. I will be forever grateful. We were blessed to know him."