John Tyree stopped working on his ailing Porsche racecar long enough on Monday evening to answer a call.
“Two phone calls in one week – should you like to talk to me?” Tyree joked from his home in San Antonio, Texas.
What is not fun about it? The 81-year-old football coach is an Inland legend who has always been as much fun as a day at an amusement park. He is almost at the end of his career, but he is still looking for a job as a coach at an age when most men spend their days playing bingo.
“I’m ready to get it going again,” said Tyree. “I’m just waiting to see what the NCAA is going to do (in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic) because it will be a drip effect.”
Asked why he keeps going, Tyree said, “I’ve tried to retire before, but my health is good, and I still have energy and I’m feeling bored when I’m not working. During the day, TV sends everyone back to work.”
Tyree’s last coaching stint ended after the 2019 season when he retired as a coach at Calexico High after four years. It remains to be seen whether that was the last hurray for the native Oklahoman who won section titles at Imperial High in 1973 and Pasadena Muir in 1989, launched the Fontana High dynasty in the mid-1970s and had a successful run at Miller.
Tyree doesn’t delay much, who has 227 career wins.
In the state of Oklahoma in the 1960s, he was a 5-foot-8 running back who led the scout team by mimicking the stars of the day, such as Kansas quarterback John Hadl, for the Cowboys’ opponents. Twenty-five years later, he broke his neck while riding a bull after being provoked by fellow coaches at Cameron Junior College in Oklahoma.
He recently learned that he had the coronavirus while still in Calexico.
“I had the damn virus, but no one knew what it was in December,” said Tyree. “I thought Father Time caught up with me. I was in my office sweating and freezing at the same time. I went home and one of my assistants brought me some cold medicines. The pain was unbelievable. ‘
He has since recovered.
Tough as an old saddle and sharp in mind, Tyree’s personality traveled well from Imperial to Fontana High in 1974. He was able to hire five assistant coaches, all of them teachers. Then in 1975 he picked Dick Bruich from Santa Fe Springs St. Paul and made him the defensive coordinator. Bruich soon formed his own place in the history of Fontana.
When Tyree took over, Fontana couldn’t beat Redlands, which had an unbeaten run of 20 games against the Steelers through 1974. But on October 24, 1975, Fontana quarterback Gary Tate scored two second half touchdowns to take the Steelers to an 18 -13 victory against the Terriers.
Jubilant Fontana players pulled Tyree up and carried him off the field. Someone took a photo – a memento Tyree still cherishes.
“It was the only time I was taken off a football field after a victory,” Tyree told San Bernardino Sun in 1991. “It meant so much to me and it is still the most memorable victory of my career.”
Fontana also defeated Eisenhower 14-7 that season for a packed house on the Orange Show. Future pro Ronnie Lott van Eisenhower hit Fontana’s fullback, Reuben Henderson, so hard that he knocked himself out.
Eisenhower had no whirlpool at the time, so Lott was brought to Fontana the next day to enjoy.
“Lott said to me,” Coach, were you trying to hurt me? “I said,” No, we were trying to kill you, “” Tyree said, laughing.
The victories piled up. Against a visit to Los Angeles Jefferson in a nonleague game, Fontana led 50 points in the second half. The booster club hired a company to light fireworks after each score and the air was on fire.
“It was just like July 4,” said Tyree. “I was in the press box and I saw the booster club president arrive and I said to my assistants, ‘Don’t let him in.’ “I knew what he wanted. So they locked the door and we scored again and then the fireworks went off.”
In 1976, Tyree led the Steelers to a section title game for major schools at what was then Anaheim Stadium, but Fontana lost to Hacienda Heights Los Altos, 27-0.
Tyree then bickered with the school district about the facilities and eventually left for another job.
“I was a hot-head then,” he said.
Fontana fans were downcast, with a booster telling a reporter, “I haven’t felt so bad since John Kennedy died.”
Fontana’s football survived the change. Bruich took over and won 12 league titles, made the playoffs for 22 consecutive years, leading the Steelers to two section titles and a mythical national title in 1987.
Many old Fontana football fans still praise Tyree for his impact on the program.
“Tyree deserves high praise for laying the groundwork at Fohi,” former Steelers star Vinny Fazio said on Twitter. “Obviously Dick Bruich and Skip (Fazio) & Co. took it on a rocket to the moon, but you can’t ignore Tyree’s contributions.”
After he left Fontana, Tyree alternated small college and JC coaching jobs with stints at Ramona, Muir and Miller high schools.
At his most recent stop, the octogenarian braved the blast furnace heat of Calexico to turn a dying program (0-10 in 2015) into a playoff qualification (6-6 record) in one year.
So now, with the clock ticking, is there another wreck that Tyree needs to fix, maybe in Texas or California?
“I have a whistle, will travel,” said Tyree. “The phone might ring and I might go. But it must be something good – no more suicide missions. ”
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THE TYREE FILE
Name: John Tyree
Lives: San Antonio, Texas
Background: Coached at Fontana, Pasadena Muir, Riverside Ramona and Miller high schools. … Tyree observed weightlifters in Venice Beach early in his career and from that point on emphasized lifting. … Once called assistant coaches to his home in Fontana to find his lucky white belt. … Coached future NFL players Nick Barnett and Reuben Henderson. … Received a rocking chair from former Redlands High coach Jim Walker on the first farewell tour in 2005.… Member of Inland Empire Football Hall of Fame, Imperial Valley Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame and located in the City of Fontana, Wall of Fame. … Rides Porsches on short circuits and has won two best-of-class awards … His 10-year-old wife, Myra, lives in San Antonio all year round. … has two daughters, two stepdaughters and a son, John, who plays in a rock band.