Gerry Kundert was as defined by his football innovation and ability to mold small teams into big-school champions as he was by his favorite ride.
Kundert treasured his 1967 British classic Austin-Healey Sprite, a convertible no larger than a pulling guard, that he glided across Sacramento roadways like a skitterbug on a lake because it was just as low to the surface. The vehicle was as unique as the driver. The image of Kundert, even in recent years, peering from under an old faded blue fishing hat as he tooled around town, is indelible, the auto and the owner often cruising topless.
Kundert was a Mira Loma High School football coach from the 1960s through the mid-1980s, one of the first in the area to run the wing-T offense. His leadership influenced many former Matadors to become teachers and coaches. Stories have flowed since he died in his sleep at 86 on Feb. 18 of natural causes.
“We lost a great man,” said Inderkum coach Terry Stark, who played quarterback for Kundert in the 1970s and got his coaching start with his mentor’s help. “I was a young coach in the 1980s, knew nothing, and he taught me everything. I would sit in his backyard for years, with a chalkboard, and we’d go over plays. Every Sunday. He’d teach me, then erase the board and have me teach him.
“And the car? The kids at Inderkum would get so excited when he’d show up at practice. They loved the old coach and the old car.”
Kundert and Mira Loma coaching partner Don Brown introduced the wing-T to Sacramento in 1962. Attending the Camellia Bowl at Hughes Stadium, the coaches saw the University of Delaware run this deceptive offense – who had the ball? – in which undersized linemen held their own.
The coaches obtained game film and playbooks and implemented the wing-T at Mira Loma. The Matadors became a powerhouse in the 1960s and ’70s, winning 16 league titles and producing some of the best teams in region history in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Players tossed the coaches into the school pool to celebrate 10-0 seasons. Brown was the head coach from 1962 to 1978 with Kundert his top assistant; and Kundert was the head coach from 1979 to 1986.
“The wing-T allows everyone a chance to compete, and you know what? It’s a lot of fun to confuse defenses,” Kundert told me years ago.
Kundert never totally stepped away from the sport, returning in assistant or advisory roles over the decades to those he once coached, including Mike Dimino at Del Campo, Randy Blankenship at Aptos High near Santa Cruz and John Jessen, who has won championships in Alaska. Each coach continues to use elements of the wing-T.
Blankenship took the wing-T to Nevada Union in 1984 and transformed the Miners into a powerhouse, and the trend continued into the 2000s under another Kundert product, Dave Humphers.
“Kundert had a huge impact to so many of us,” Dimino said. “If it wasn’t done right in practice, you did it over and over and over. What he taught all of us was that there is a minimum standard of excellence, almost perfection, and we all bought in.”
The old coach was a throwback, Dimino said, laughing.
“When practice was over for us, in the late 1970s, Don Brown would drive off, but Kundert still had a lot of us doing drills,” Dimino said. “Brown would get 100 yards down Norris Avenue, stop, honk his horn, and yell, “OK, Gerry, that’s it. Let the guys go!’ ”
Kundert graduated in 1949 from Grant, where he earned Bee All-Metro honors as a lineman and linebacker. He attended Saint Mary’s, where he played football, for two years, then served in the Air Force from 1951 to 1954, coaching the offensive line for the base teams. Kundert played his final two college seasons at Utah, ending in 1956.
Kundert often said his greatest joy was coaching his sons at Mira Loma – Corrie, Ken and Keith (daughter Nancy also graduated from Mira Loma).
“My dad will be missed,” Corrie said. “He was a true coach. We had plays scribbled on paper across the house, X’s and O’s everywhere. He was so enamored with the wing-T. As for the old car, sometimes players would move it from the parking lot into the quad at Mira Loma. He couldn’t find it. Family, coaching, that old car – those were his prides and joy.”