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High school coach Vernon Fox won games, taught life lessons

Updated February 8, 2020 - 6:22 pm

He guided Faith Lutheran to a 53-28 record and Class 3A state championship in seven years as football coach. Before that, he was an all-conference safety at Fresno State and went on to play eight seasons in the NFL despite not being drafted.

These are things by which to remember Vernon Fox, who resigned as Faith’s football coach and molder of young men on Tuesday.

But this is what I will remember most about him: That when offered a chance to gain the upper hand on an opponent through devious means, he refused and did the right thing.

When for some unknown reason an opposing coach last season emailed Fox the game plan the opponent planned to use against Fox’s team, he notified the authorities at Phoenix’s Mountain Pointe High School posthaste.

Faith Lutheran lost the game 40-17. But because Fox did the right thing, the Mountain Pointe assistant coach was forced to resign.

“I try to teach the boys to not live with regret, to be excellent young men of character and integrity,” said Fox, 40. “I try my best to be a living example of the tenets I preach to the kids.”

The faith-driven Fox said he was only being honest, a policy by which he has always abided.

“I talk to the boys all the time about the decisions you make when no one is looking,” he said. “It wasn’t something I did to get notoriety. It was just a teaching opportunity … and I would have done it a hundred times over.”

While some in sports bang trash cans, Vernon Fox blew a whistle. In so doing, he taught his players a lesson they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Ludwick returns

Sometimes when the right thing is done, it takes time and perspective to appreciate it.

During his remarks at Thursday’s UNLV First Pitch fundraiser, Ryan Ludwick, former Rebels and Durango High slugger and MLB All-Star, shared a story about arriving late for a game for which almost every MLB team had sent a man to scout him.

“At the time, Baseball America had me going No. 9 overall in the draft. I went out really late (the night before) and slept through my alarm,” recalled Ludwick, 41, now a roving minor league hitting instructor for the St. Louis Cardinals.

His teammates voted to let him play before then-UNLV coach Rod Soesbe exercised veto power.

“At the time, I was really, really (upset),” said Ludwick, who would be drafted in the second round by the Texas Rangers, costing him about $1 million bonus money. “But looking back at it now, being a parent of an 11-year-old, it was a good life lesson.”

Ludwick nodded to Soesbe, who was in the audience.

“I wouldn’t have done it any other way,” Ludwick said.

Around the horn

— UNLV benefactor Tim McGarry, standing in the back room at First Pitch, shared a text message sent to him by friend Tony La Russa, who managed Ryan Ludwick with the Cardinals.

“Give him a hug for me,” wrote the Hall of Fame skipper. “Tell him he is on my list of favorite teammates. Willing to work and compete, plus toughness.”

More from Chicago Cubs and former Bonanza High star Kris Bryant, on impending fatherhood. Bryant and his wife, Jess, are expecting a boy in April:

“I don’t even know if I want my boy to play baseball. I’m like, you’re going to go to the golf course. You’re going to play a nice, relaxing sport where nobody is screaming at you. But my dad (Mike, a former Boston Red Sox farmhand and longtime amateur hitting instructor) will definitely be trying to put a bat in his hands.”

— Last week, I wrote about Henderson resident Jerry Izenberg, the decorated sports writer whose string of covering the first 53 Super Bowls ended with last week’s game. This is what he wrote in the Newark Star-Ledger in his LIV prediction column:

“It is up to Mahomes to bring it home.

I like the Chiefs, 31-20.”

0:01

“You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat. Losing after great striving is the story of man, who was born to sorrow, whose sweetest songs tell of saddest thought, and who, if he is a hero, does nothing in life as becomingly as leaving it.”

That was Roger Kahn waxing poetic about the old Brooklyn Dodgers in “The Boys of Summer.”

The baseball author and wordsmith died Thursday at age 92.

Let the box score show he left life becomingly.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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