Monterey Peninsula College to hold dedication ceremony for Pappas-Phillips Community Stadium

Peninsula Premier Admin

MONTEREY — Luke Phillips and Chris Pappas met more than six decades ago at San Jose State, two guys in their 20s who were assistant football coaches at the college with future coaching legends Bill Walsh and Dick Vermeil.

Phillips and Pappas likely could have become national coaching figures as well, had that been important to them.

Instead, they journeyed to Monterey Peninsula College and never left. Phillips, who co-captained MPC’s first football team in 1948, returned in 1957; Pappas arrived in 1963. They etched their names into football folklore, creating history never to be duplicated. Between them, they coached and taught for about 120 years at MPC: Phillips primarily in football but also golf, track and field and tennis; Pappas in football and baseball but also as the school’s athletic director for 28 years. He also inaugurated the school’s Adaptive Physical Education program, working with students who had physical disabilities, either from birth or through accidents.

Phillips passed away in February 2019 at age 91, Pappas in July 2020 at 89.

They will be rightly linked again when MPC’s stadium is officially dedicated as Pappas-Phillips Community Stadium during halftime ceremonies Saturday at the MPC football opener against Yuba College. Gametime is 1 p.m.

The decision to name the stadium after this inimitable pair was unanimously reached by the MPC Board of Trustees late in 2020.

That move was spearheaded by Pappas’s oldest son, Chris Pappageorgas — who keeps the family’s original Greek surname — with the help of several others, including Sam Phillips, a grandson of Luke.

“It is the perfect way to honor the two men together,” said Pappageorgas, who played quarterback under his father and Phillips for his two MPC seasons. Two younger brothers, Bobby and Richard, also played for both.

“It’s certainly deserved by each gentleman,” said Pappageorgas. “I tell everyone my dad and Coach Phillips would be so proud. I’m sure my dad would tear up and Coach Phillips would try to lighten the moment. They had a great friendship that lasted for over 60 years. They were complete opposites: Luke the joker and Chris the straight man.”

“Luke and Chris had a very close friendship, like brothers,” said Victoria Phillips, Luke’s wife of 43 years. “They were loyal to each other, always. They coached differently. Luke was intense, especially in his earlier years. Chris was serious in a different way. They had a lot of respect for each other, and I never heard Luke say an unkind word about Chris.”

They did far more than call plays and devise strategies.

“Both were super fairminded in terms of following the rules of the game and teaching that way,” said Ron Johnson, a wide receiver at MPC who played five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. “They’d say, ‘We’re going to play it fair. If other teams aren’t playing fair, that’s their problem, not ours.’ ”

Johnson, who is now president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Monterey County, recalled how Phillips and Pappas went out of their way to find housing for players who were not local, some of whom lived with the Johnson family. “The coaches helped provide a stable environment and a good support system.”

“Luke cared deeply for his student-athletes and found ways to connect with them and their parents alike,” Victoria Phillips said. “Luke thought he was living his best life. He loved coaching and teaching.”

Lyndon Schutzler, MPC’s athletic director for 20 years before retiring two years ago and a former baseball player at the school, said, “They loved what they did, and they were loved in return.”

Rich Montori, who served MPC in various capacities over 30 years, including as public information officer and assistant to the president, wrote to the school’s Board of Trustees, supporting the stadium naming:

“Their coaching successes are well documented: league championships, Hall of Fame recognition, positive win-loss records, players matriculating to four-year programs, and several making it to the NFL. But it is the impact they had as teachers and mentors, teaching values on the playing fields and in the classroom, teaching the valued lessons of life that are remembered by the thousands of players and students who have crossed their paths.”

Local coaches learned from their MPC mentors. One is Michael Groves, Monterey High’s varsity baseball coach for the past 43 years. He played baseball under Pappas and Larry Cummins and basketball under Cummins.

In his book, “30 Days with America’s High School Coaches: True stories of successful coaches using imagination and a strong internal compass to shape tomorrow’s leaders,” published this year, journalist Martin Davis wrote that Pappas’ lessons in inclusion set Groves “on the path to a concept currently known as ‘transformative coaching’ ” in which “a coach is not just teaching the game, he is developing kids’ social and emotional IQs and skills, too.”

“Pappas did a lot of work with Special Olympics, which inspired me to be more inclusive,” said Groves.

Pappas and his wife, Peggy, had been married 69 years when he died.

Football is intense, but not without lighter moments.

One time, Schutzler recalled, Pappas was on the sidelines and “Luke was communicating from the booth because he was very excitable during games. In one tight game, Luke was yelling at Chris to put in Tony Lagana, a fine linebacker. Chris told him he couldn’t, and Luke asked why not in colorful words. Chris replied because Lagana had graduated two years ago.”

Phillips was one of “Pappy’s Boys,” named after UC Berkeley head coach Pappy Waldorf, who took the Bears to the Rose Bowl at the conclusion of the 1948, 1949 and 1950 seasons. Phillips played on the second and third of those teams.  Decades later he still attended Cal home games, walking slowly up the hill to the stadium, accompanied by good friend Montori.

As the years accumulated, Pappas and Phillips remained fixtures at MPC.

“On several occasions both Bill Walsh, who won three Super Bowls with the 49ers, and Dick Vermeil, who won one with the Rams, told me they envied my dad for staying in one home and going home every night,” said Pappageorgas. “Having these men tell this to my dad made him realize he was doing the correct thing for him and his family. I would agree. In about 1975 the offers quit coming as everyone knew that my dad loved where he was and had no interest in leaving.  I’m sure Coach Phillips had the same opportunities and also had no interest in leaving.”

Lewis Leader, of Carmel Valley, is a freelance writer and consultant. He was a newspaper reporter and editor for 27 years, including at The Herald and The Los Angeles Times.

Monterey Peninsula College Football alumni: receiver Don Enea, left, head coach Luke Phillips and backfield coach Chris Pappas photographed in Monterey in 2016. (Monterey Herald file)
Monterey Peninsula College Football alumni: receiver Don Enea, left, head coach Luke Phillips and backfield coach Chris Pappas photographed in Monterey in 2016. (Monterey Herald file)

Contributed by local news sources

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