‘A tremendous example’: UC Berkeley alumnus, legendary football coach John Ralston dies at 92

Cal Athletics/Courtesy

John Ralston, UC Berkeley alumnus and former head coach of Stanford University football, died Sept. 14 in Sunnyvale, California at the age of 92.

In 1956, Ralston was a junior assistant football coach under UC Berkeley head coach Pappy Waldorf. Waldorf’s legacy lives on through an organization known as Pappy’s Boysan alumni chapter that brings families of university football players together and raises funds for the endowed Waldorf football scholarship, which is given yearly to one football player. Ralston was the president of Pappy’s Boys in 2002 and donated money toward the scholarship fund.

After graduating in 1958, alumnus and former UC Berkeley football coach Mike White became the head freshman coach under Ralston.

“(Ralston) took me under his wing and helped me get started as a football coach, and was almost like a father to me,” White said. “I owe everything in my career to him for being the kind of person he was. … He was a tremendous example for all of us who coached under him.”

Hans “Lefty” Stern, also a UC Berkeley alumnus, was classmates with Ralston and reported for the sports section of the Berkeley Gazette before graduating in 1951 to work for the campus sports publicity department.

Stern recalled Ralston as a “very good human being.”

“Ralston wanted to bring the guys that played under Coach Waldorf together,” Stern said. “John was an outgoing guy. Even though he went to Stanford, his heart was always at Cal.”

After coaching at UC Berkeley and later Utah State University, Ralston moved his career to Stanford University in 1963, bringing White along on staff.

Under Ralston’s leadership, Stanford football won consecutive Pac-8 championships and back-to-back Rose Bowls in 1971 and 1972, according to Mercury News. Stanford quarterback Jim Plunkett also won the Heisman Trophy in 1970 during Ralston’s coaching career at Stanford. In 1972, Ralston moved his coaching career to the NFL for the Denver Broncos.

Ralston’s legacy lives on in over six halls of fame, including the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame, the College Football Hall of Fame and Stanford football’s hall of fame.

After Ralston’s coaching career, White recalled a time they spent together at the Lair of the Golden Bear summer camp, run by the alumni association.

“He used to come up to the lair and we would play cards. He was a great gin rummy player, he always tried to beat me in gin rummy,” White said. “He was Cal bear through and through.”

Ralston is survived by his daughter, Terry Zaffonato, four grandsons, two granddaughters and one great-granddaughter, according to Mercury News.

According to White, a memorial service will be held for Ralston in Stanford Memorial Church on Nov. 18 during Big Game week.

Contact Olivia Buccieri at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @obuccieri_dc‏.