In memory: Former South Bay football coaches Benny Pierce, Chon Gallegos remembered as class individuals

Many years after Benny Pierce retired as Saratoga High’s football coach, the school held a class reunion during a fall weekend.

The activities included a Saratoga football game.

Pierce walked into Saratoga’s team room with many of his former players from the reunited class and gave that year’s team a pregame address.

Tim Lugo, the school’s head coach at that time, gets choked up remembering that moment.

“To see how these grown men just revered him, the look in their eyes when he was talking to those kids, those guys turned 16 years old again,” Lugo said Monday. “You could see how much they loved him.

“He just had a way with those men that he made such a difference in their lives. They were grown men with their own families and their own kids, but he was their coach.”

Pierce, the Central Coast Section’s all-time winningest football coach at the time of his retirement in 1994, died on Saturday of natural causes. He was 89.

Pierce is the second former longtime South Bay high school football coach to die this year. Chon Gallegos, who coached Jim Plunkett at James Lick in the 1960s and was the head coach at Santa Teresa from 1974-92, died on Jan. 17. He was 83.

“Two class individuals,” former Oak Grove coach Ed Buller said Monday.

In 34 seasons as Saratoga’s varsity coach, Pierce finished with 269 wins, 84 losses and four ties, according to records kept by Cal-Hi Sports.

He had 31 winning seasons, captured 16 league and four CCS championships and went undefeated without a tie three times.

His mark as the section’s all-time leader in wins stood until Bellarmine’s Mike Janda passed him in 2015.

Pierce, in retirement, spent much of his time on a golf course, attending high school football games and staying in touch with former players and coaching colleagues.

“It’s my father, so I want to be humble about it, but he was an amazing man,” said Pierce’s son, Larry. “His coaching was unbelievable, too. He was a great coach. But it’s not about that. It’s more about the relationships, the values and what he brought out of people – character and the life lessons.”

Pierce was a mentor to many, including the coach who succeeded him at Saratoga, Mike Machado. The two remained close through the years, with Pierce attending nearly all of Valley Christian’s home games after Machado left Saratoga for the San Jose school in 1997.

Machado described Pierce as a smart coach who stuck to what he believed in. Their friendship was more than X’s and O’s.

“I would be over watching ballgames with him two, three, four days a week,” Machado said. “He enjoyed it. He enjoyed high school football and what it meant and how important it was to the young people that were a part of it.”

Before becoming a coach, Pierce played at Los Gatos High and San Jose State. As a college quarterback, he threw passes to future 49ers coach Bill Walsh.

“They were friends,” Machado said, adding that he met Walsh because of Pierce.

Less than a decade after Pierce played at San Jose State, Gallegos started at quarterback for the Spartans and led the NCAA with 14 touchdown passes in 1961.

Gallegos, who starred at Lick, went on to play one season for the Oakland Raiders, throwing for two TDs over six games in 1962.

Just as Pierce did, Gallegos loved to golf.

“Hell of an athlete,” Buller said about his friend, Gallegos. “Led the nation in passing his senior year and won the Pop Warner Award. And every time he picked up a golf club, he shot it in the 80s. When he was in his prime, he was a one- or two- or three-handicap golfer. He was really good.”

As a golf coach at Lick, Gallegos’ roster once included Roger Maltbie, a future pro who spent years as a well-known NBC analyst.

Chon Gallegos, left, was on the football staff and coached golf at James Lick. His golf roster in the late 1960s included future pro Roger Maltbie, right. (James Lick yearbook, 1969)Chon Gallegos, left, was on the football staff and coached golf at James Lick before moving on to Santa Teresa. His golf roster in the late 1960s at Lick included future pro Roger Maltbie, right. (James Lick yearbook, 1969) 

When Gallegos was on Lick’s football staff, he mentored Plunkett, the 1970 Heisman Trophy winner at Stanford and a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Raiders.

After leaving Lick for Santa Teresa, Gallegos coached two more future NFL quarterbacks, Rich Campbell and Craig Whelihan.

“We probably coached against him five or six times,” Buller said. “They beat us in a really good game over at Santa Teresa. We tied them once at Oak Grove. There were some really good games.”


Gallegos’ funeral will be held at 2 p.m. on Feb. 25 at St. Francis of Assisi on San Felipe Road. More information can be found here. … Pierce is survived by his son, Larry, daughter, Brenda Skrabe, and grandchildren Brad Pierce, Lindsay Picone and Kelsie Skrabe. Services have not been announced. When they are, we will provide an update here.

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