Hometown Report

For 41 years, he coached for free and in sandals for UC Davis. Fred Arp dies at 73

UC Davis defensive-line coach Fred Arp talks to his linemen during practice, May 16, 2001.
UC Davis defensive-line coach Fred Arp talks to his linemen during practice, May 16, 2001. Sacramento Bee file

He was bearded, bespectacled and beloved.

He often wore Birkenstocks and Hawaiian shirts to practice, talked literature and Dodgers, politics and presidents.

He was Fred Arp, known for years by the UC Davis defensive linemen he coached as the uber-cool leader of "Club Fred."

An institution with the Aggies for 41 seasons who coached without a salary but gained immeasurable moments and friendships with student-athletes and fellow coaches, Arp died Wednesday at 73. The cause of death was not immediately known. Services are pending.

When he retired from full-time coaching in 2007, Arp had been part of 428 Aggies football games – more than half of their games ever played – including 307 victories.

He was in the fold when the Aggies produced a record 37 consecutive winning seasons, ending in 2007. He wore headsets throughout the record run of 20 consecutive conference champions and the 18 NCAA postseason appearances. Arp is the only assistant coach in UCD history across all sports to earn induction into the Cal Aggie Athletic Hall of Fame.

After retirement, Arp remained loyal to the Aggies as a consultant and a football historian. Players past and present gravitated to Arp in recent years, just to hear him and to be heard.

"We lost a great human being," said Bob Biggs, who played and coached at UCD for decades, including as head coach from 1994-2012. "When we go through life and someone like Fred comes along, you feel it. Very unassuming, very ego-less person, and the impact he had, the genuine care he had ... he was a great person. I'd compare his remarkable streak of games with anyone anywhere."

Arp as a coach missed just one game in 41 seasons – to be with wife Jane for the birth of their only son, Ben. Fred and Jane were married 51 years.

Arp was a voracious reader on a variety of topics. He was a sports memorabilia collector, and he donated countless personal items for the Arp Family Foundation to raise funds for UCD, where Arp played football and graduated.

Arp commuted daily from his home in Meadow Vista in Placer County to Yolo County for Aggies practices and games, more than one hour each way. He never collected a dime for his drive or coaching.

"He never got paid the whole time he coached because he didn't take a salary, and he gave so much to the school – just remarkable," Biggs said. Arp was independently wealthy, friends said.

Arp believed positive reinforcement – a pat on the back and kind words – was the most powerful motivator.

"He was unique like that," Biggs said. "It goes to show that being a mentor to young men, you don't have to be loud and boisterous. He never raised his voice."

Arp once told The Bee he had to be "not just the best-looking coach on staff but the smartest. I'm the only one who figured out that shade trees are a good thing to have in practice."

The shade cast on Howard Way for the practice sessions allowed Arp a chance to cool his players and regale them in stories. Soon, this association was known as "Club Fred."

Arp's greatest joy was how good his linemen were as students and people, telling The Bee, "after awhile, football goes away, but not the rest of your life."

Six of his defensive linemen earned first-team All-American honors and 35 gained first-team all-conference recognition. Others earned Academic All-America or NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship Awards. And six are members of the Cal Aggie Athletics Hall of Fame.

"The Aggie D-line has always been a unique position on the field, and this is 100 percent because of Fred,” said Robby Flannery, who starred at defensive tackle for Arp from 1996-99. “We were called 'Club Fred' because everyone else on the team saw us doing ‘Shade Drills’ and thought we had it easy.

"In reality, Fred knew we would perform on Saturday, so he figured he didn’t need to ‘toughen us up.’ He always respected his players, and the feeling was mutual."

Said Biggs, "People on the outside heard of 'Club Fred' and wondered, 'what's going on here?' That was Fred's connection with his players."

Arp as a young coach recruited Biggs out of Vacaville High School in 1969, a memory that sticks. Biggs became one of the most accomplished Aggies in program history as a quarterback.

"That's how I got introduced to UCD for the first time," Biggs said. "I saw this man with a full head of afro hair and thought, 'What the heck? This is a football coach?' That started a long, long life of friendship. He will be missed."

Doug Kelly became fast friends with Arp when they met in 1996, the day Kelly signed on to do color commentary on Aggies football for KHTK (1140 AM).

"I've been around a lot of teams and people, all levels, and Fred was as good of a coach as anyone I've worked with and ever will work with," Kelly said. "We'd have these great discussions and compare notes on books we were reading. I'm a Giants fan and he's a Dodgers fan, and we'd go back and forth, always good-natured fun.

"Fred was amazing and a very good friend to a lot of people."