Dick Pierucci delighted in teamwork and motivation, and he pulled out all stops to garner results.
The athletic director at Sacramento City College from 1961 to 1993, Pierucci cultivated a culture of unparalleled community college success, fostering an impression that a two-year school could feel every bit like a slice of the big time. And the Panthers were big time, winning numerous championships and producing an assembly line of athletes to major colleges.
But Pierucci didn’t encourage his coaches to employ all of his inspirational tactics. “Be you,” he’d tell them.
Pierucci died Monday from complications of lung cancer. He was 87, but his legacy lives on, those close to him insist. His stories certainly do.
One that captures Pierucci perfectly was when he served as the Panthers’ football coach in 1961. He riled up his agitated team during a mid-week practice by pointing to a nearby car in the Hughes Stadium lot. Inside was a man in dark glasses and a trench coat, holding a box camera, like something out of a James Bond movie.
It was a Sac City staffer looking stealthy, per Pierucci orders. Pierucci pointed the fellow out to his team, then unleashed the Panthers into the lot, in full gear, saying, “If that’s a spy, damn it, let’s get him!”
“I told the equipment man to make sure his car was running, and be ready to get the heck out of there,” Pierucci recalled several years ago before his induction into the California Community College Athletic Hall of Fame. “Hey, helped us win the next game. Isn’t that terrible?”
Pierucci was beloved on campus – by coaches, faculty and students. Right on down to the last person he hired in 1993 – Dave Whittington, still the Panthers’ head equipment manager.
To Pierucci, everyone mattered. The football coach, the track coach, the softball coach. The equipment guy was just as important.
“That’s what we all loved about him,” Whittington said. “What a special guy Pierucci was. I wanted to be part of something unique at Sac City, and he gave me that chance, and I’m thankful. He was always the same guy, a happy guy who really enjoyed people.”
Pierucci cultivated a coaching stable at Sac City by personally scouting and recruiting prospects. He found Jerry Sullivan coaching football at Highlands High School and lured him in 1980 to save the Panthers, mired in a 22-game losing streak. Football was in such dire straits at the time that there were discussions of folding the program. Instead, Sac City became an instant powerhouse under Sullivan. The same happened with wrestling under Dave Pacheco, softball under Tim Kiernan, track under Bob Lanza and Lisa Bauduin, and baseball under Jerry Weinstein and Paul Carmazzi.
With Pierucci the driving force, Sac City built Union Stadium in 1988, still one of the finest community college baseball venues in the country. And with Pierucci as AD, Sac City won 104 league championships in 14 sports, claimed 16 state championships and had 20 second-place state showings.
“Great AD, great man, and you couldn’t find a nicer person,” said Carmazzi, now a Sac City athletic administrator. “He was subtly competitive. Loved to win. He had an amazing career. It’s sad, but he lived a good life, a great life. He really did. He impacted so many people.”
A Woodland native, Pierucci played baseball at Sac City in the late 1940s and at Sacramento State in the early ’50s. He coached football and basketball at San Juan High School. The Spartans have not won a football league championship since Pierucci did in 1958. Pierucci also helped start high school wrestling in the Sacramento region in the late ’50s.
In the 1960s, Pierucci was the point man at Sac City in organizing NFL exhibition games at Hughes Stadium, including the Raiders and 49ers. Years after the Doobie Brothers drew a Hughes Stadium-record 42,000 people in 1981, Pierucci reflected: “Great show, but I couldn’t wait for those fans to get the heck off of our field!”
Pierucci remained active in retirement. He was deeply involved in the Dante Club and the local chapter of the National Football Foundation, right up to his final years.
The love of Pierucci’s life was wife, Pat. They had three children, sons Richard and David and daughter Terry. Pierucci and his wife golfed regularly, and he would joke, “It’s a good day when I have a better score than Pat.”
The Pieruccis celebrated their 65th anniversary in February, just as they learned of his diagnosis.
“Dick loved Sacramento City College, his time there, the people,” Pat Pierucci said. “He’s going to be missed. He’s certainly going to be missed here at home.”