BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – At the end of the fateful day that Ned Permenter was first named head football coach at Foothill High School, he went home and cried. They were not tears of joy — they were tears of dread.
At the time, Bakersfield’s five-team South Yosemite League was coached by a Murderers’ Row of veteran coaches.
World War II veterans all – Turk Eliades of North, Larry LaFond of South, Migs Apsit of East and the most decorated of them all, Paul Briggs of Bakersfield High School. And a few giants of the gridiron in other leagues.
Foothill had been in existence only three years and the school had no tradition of success. That is, until 1965. The rookie football coach beat them all – breaking Bakersfield High’s 27-game winning streak in the process – to win the championship.
If Ned Permenter was still unsure of his place among the coaching luminaries of the day after that memorable first season, this set him straight. A letter of congratulations from Paul Briggs, the man whose team his Trojans had just defeated, welcoming him to the coaching fraternity.
As much as he wanted to win, though, Permenter placed the real value in character building – and it paid off, starting with that very first team.
“On that team was Dr. Bill Baker, who’s my physician today, Dr. John Alexander, who’s my dentist today, Dr. Joe Thompson, who’s the last principal I had at Foothill, and Steve Brummer, who was the chief of police,” Permenter said. “They were all on that 1965 team. So you never know – they’re taking care of you later in life.”
Permenter’s Trojans held their own during his 37 year tenure. With assistant coach Bob Ezell next to him on the sidelines for the entire 37 years, Permenter won 9 championships, sending scores of players into the college football ranks and 15 to pro football.
Among those were linebacker Joey Porter and running back Rashaan Shehee. Shehee said Permenter knew how to diagram a play but his strength was in his compassion, his ability to relate.
“Coach Permenter is definitely one of the best coaches I ever had,” said Shehee, who was a running back for the Kansas City Chiefs. “And not because of his knowledge of the sport. It’s what he did (on a personal level.) The values that he taught us that’s going to go further in life. So I’m very thankful that he was able to touch me.”
Shehee is one of at least 46 former Foothill players, by Permenter’s count, who’ve gone into coaching. Shehee, in his third year as Bakersfield High School’s head football coach, is among those who value Permenter’s willingness to reach out, coach to coach.
In fact, Permenter, who’s now 86, reaches out to high school football coaches all the time, including Jerald Pierucci, coach of the Shafter High Generals. When Perrucci was fired from his head coaching job at East High years ago, Permenter took the time to put that wisdom down on paper, old school. Pierucci still has the letter.
“When you’ve a young coach and you get fired for your very first time, there’s a lot of emotions that go along to it,” Pierucci said. “and he was able to kind of get it aside and go, ‘Hey, I know you’re not feeling well, I know things don’t feel right, but better things are yet to come because of what you’ve been able to do.’”
What makes Pierucci’s relationship with Permenter different, though, is this: Permenter grew up in Wasco, Shafter’s municipal neighbor to the north and most storied and fierce sports rival.
Permenter was a Wasco High School legend, a 5-foot-8 firecracker who starred in three sports. He still has his baseball and football most valuable player awards, laughably modest by today’s a-trophy-for-everyone standards. He went on to star at Bakersfield College and UC Santa Barbara, back when that school had a competitive football program.
But some things are bigger than football – after marrying a Shafter girl, Virginia, maintaining a friendship with the coach of an arch-rival school is no big deal. For Permenter, football is really about life after football.
“I’m really most proud of all (my) athletes, whether they play on … (in college football) or just become a good citizen,” Permenter said. “We’ve had so many people who have done amazing things in the community and nationwide that are just great people. That really makes your heart feel good when you see that.”
Foothill Principal Ryan Geivet says when it comes to Coach Permenter, the game, as important as it might be, comes in second.
“When you hear people talk about him, you always hear about what a caring person he was,” Geivwet said, “and rarely do people talk about football.”
Permenter retired in 2002, more than 20 years ago, the last of Foothill’s original teaching staff to leave. He’s been with the same woman for 41 years, lives in the same modest home he bought 56 years ago, and is still a fixture at most every home game at Ned Permenter Stadium.
In 1948 East High’s football field was named in honor of Permenter’s cousin – Ray Permenter, a star athlete at East who was killed in World War II, at age 19.
Decades later, Ned Permenter declined Foothill’s offer to name its football field Ned Permenter Field because he didn’t want to detract or confuse with a second Permenter Field in town. But Ned Permenter Stadium? He agreed to that honor.