Joe Davidson

‘We lost a great man’: Remembering famed Del Oro coach John Fletcher

Bob Christiansen, left, and John Fletcher, who died Saturday after a long battle with cancer, were best friends who launched the Del Oro football dynasty in the 1980s as co-coaches.
Bob Christiansen, left, and John Fletcher, who died Saturday after a long battle with cancer, were best friends who launched the Del Oro football dynasty in the 1980s as co-coaches. Courtesy of Gold Country Media

John Fletcher had two sides of him, equal parts fear and cheer.

He could be volcanically intense without uttering a word, seemingly able to glare at paint to the point it would peel. And he could be jovial. Fletcher loved family, football, hunting, Del Oro High School and anything Notre Dame.

One of the region’s great coaches and personalities who was paramount in launching the Del Oro football dynasty, Fletcher died Saturday night after a long battle with cancer, surrounded by family and friends in his home. He was 68.

Fletcher made it known that he wanted to watch one last Notre Dame kickoff amid hospice care. He got that wish.

“We lost a great man,” said Bob Christiansen, Fletcher’s co-coach at Del Oro from 1979-94, a run that included 10 Sierra Foothill League championships and four Sac-Joaquin Section banners. “He was my best friend. We were hired the same day and we retired the same day, and we remained close right to the end. Even saw a movie a couple of weeks ago.

“We were an odd couple. I was a golfer, he was a hunter. He wouldn’t golf with me and I wouldn’t hunt with him, but we sure made it work in football.”

The coaches used to banter about their efforts, claiming personal responsibility for victories while casting blame on the other for defeats. Fletcher’s greatest coaching joy was coaching son Tom, a lineman, on Del Oro’s 1994 section title team, the last game the famed coaches would work together.

Fletcher’s wife, Shelly, and their daughter, Heather, were loyal football followers. A graduate of Bishop Armstrong in Sacramento and Sacramento State, Fletcher got his regional coaching start at Christian Brothers in the early 1970s under Dick Sperbeck. Fletcher fast became friends with Dave Hoskins, now in his 52nd year of area coaching (a line coach at Capital Christian).

Hoskins experienced firsthand Fletcher’s humor and temper, sometimes within the same hour. Fletcher once joked that his hobbies included, “hunting and fishing, and wherever Dave Hoskins is not!”

Once, in the mid 1970s, Hoskins scored 10 consecutive points in a handball game and Fletcher lost it.

“All of a sudden, I hear this explosion in the back of the room, like a gunshot,” Hoskins recalled Sunday. “There was a square with glass so people could watch the games and John slammed his arm right though that glass, and his forearm looked (like a banana peel). He says in a calm voice, ‘I think we should go to the hospital.’ Uh, yeah!’

“He got 66 stitches. For the rest of his life, John had pieces of glass rise to the surface of his skin. He could be intense, he could be funny and he was a great teacher on the football field. A great guy.”

Del Oro, currently ranked No. 2 by The Bee, is coached by Jeff Walters, an alum of the school. He tweeted, “My heart is heavy. I’ve never known a man who commanded so much respect with only his presence in a room. He was an amazing coach, teacher, mentor and human being. Heaven gained a warrior.”

Del Oro principal Dan Gayaldo got to know Fletcher through football, calling his friend, “a salt of the Earth guy. He was a funny, funny man, but people were scared to death of the guy when he was intense.”

He added, “John was the best nonverbal communicator I’ve ever seen. He could just look at you and you’d go, ‘Oh (shoot)!’ And he was a fierce competitor. If anyone wore a green shirt, even if it wasn’t Placer Hillmen week, he was merciless on them. Even now, if I think of wearing a green shirt, I think, ‘Shoot, I hope John doesn’t show up.’”

Gayaldo, like so many, admired Fletcher’s courage.

“To see him battle through his illness ... amazing,” Gayaldo said. “He’d come to a game and he’s such a proud man. He’d put on a good face and you just knew he wanted to be the old John.”

Christiansen recalled a blast of Fletcher fury from 1994, when he and Fletcher worked at desks next to each other near the gym.

“One day, he makes a call and he’s on hold, on hold, on hold,” Gayaldo said. “John was getting madder and madder. Finally, he got disconnected and he yanked the cord out of the wall and threw the phone. It whizzed by my face and smashed against the wall. Never said a word. Used my phone from then on.”

Fletcher’s fondness for Notre Dame and one-time Irish coach Lou Holtz was no secret. He, Gayaldo and other pals visited Holtz years ago at Notre Dame to talk shop. Fletcher joked with The Bee after his Del Oro football retirement that he would only leave Del Oro as a teacher if he received the right call.

“I keep waiting for that call from Lou Holtz,” he said then. “But the phone doesn’t ring.”

Lou Holtz, we have John Fletcher on Line One.

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