In the 20th century when one could excel in the world of sports as a "jack of many trades," Gene Menges of San Jose State staked his claim, dug in his spikes, mastered them and was never traded.
As a quarterback on the 1948 through 1950 Spartan teams, San Jose State won 24 of 35 games and the 1949 Raisin Bowl over Texas Tech. He would become a Spartan assistant football coach whose prized recruits included Super Bowl winning head coach Dick Vermeil and dozens of future National Football League players. A star high school baseball player, Menges was a San Jose State assistant baseball coach for a season before accepting a promotion to head coach in 1970 and retiring as the University's winningest coach in the sport with 467 victories in 17 seasons (1970-1986).
Howard Eugene "Gene" Menges (pronounced Meng-guess) died on June 6 in San Jose at age 90 due to natural causes according to his son, Gregg Menges.
June 6 would be a significant date in his life. He graduated from Anaheim (Calif.) High that day in 1944 -- D-Day for the United States in Normandy, France. Closer to home, Mr. Menges enlisted in the Navy on June 6, would be shipped to the South Pacific and go on to earn the rank of quartermaster third class when he was discharged in 1946.
Born in Los Angeles on February 24, 1926, Mr. Menges' five-decade affiliation as a student, student-athlete, coach and teacher with San Jose State began in 1948 as a transfer from Fullerton College. As a high school senior at Anaheim (Calif.) High, he was the 1944 Helms Athletic Foundation High School Player of the Year.
A RECORD-SETTING QUARTERBACK
According to Gregg Menges, Mr. Menges' recruitment to San Jose State almost didn't occur. Then Spartan assistant football coach Bob Bronzan, who would later hire Mr. Menges to a similar role in 1952, went to Fullerton College looking for a player who had more of an olive-skinned complexion instead of a handsome, blond, blue-eyed young man. Mr. Menges spoke up for himself and would become the first San Jose State quarterback to pass for at least 3,000 yards in a career.
He was a nationally-ranked quarterback in 1949 finishing fifth in passing based on pass completions and 17th in total offense. The 1949 Spartans averaged 36.7 points a game and scored 40 or more points in eight of 13 outings. Dubbed "The Magician" for his ability to pass or run from any spot on the field, Mr. Menges was a first-team All-West Coast honoree by the United Press who connected on a single-season school record 16 touchdown passes.
Mr. Menges earned his bachelor's degree from San Jose State in 1951 majoring in physical education. He would receive a master's degree from his alma mater in 1957.
The only time Mr. Menges was not connected to San Jose State either as a student or coach until he retired in 1986 was the 1951-52 school year when he was a teacher and coach at San Jose's James Lick High School. He was an assistant coach for the football and track and field teams.
COACHING SUPER BOWL WINNING COACHES & A NATIONAL LEAGUE MVP
His 17 seasons as a Spartan assistant football coach remains the second longest in school history. Mr. Menges was an assistant for Bronzan (1952-56), Bob Titchenal (1957-64) and Harry Anderson (1965-1968). Among the first players he coached was three-time Super Bowl winning coach Bill Walsh, an end for the 1952 and 1953 teams.
As the San Jose State baseball head coach, his 1971 Spartans became the second team in school history to play in NCAA Tournament action. His best-known Major League Baseball players were pitcher Mark Langston, who struck out 2,464 batters in 16 seasons and 1996 National League Most Valuable Player Ken Caminiti of the San Diego Padres.
"He was the `Iron Man' of coaching at San Jose State," said Sam Piraro, who was Menges' assistant coach during the 1974 through 1979 seasons. Piraro would succeed Mr. Menges as head coach in 1987 and eventually surpass Mr. Menges' 467 baseball coaching win total at San Jose State. "He was a tough S.O.B. with a good sense of humor and quick on his feet.
"Gene was humble about the things he did. He didn't like talking about himself.... He recommended me for the San Jose State (baseball coaching job). He taught me what loyalty was. He was part of the generation that knew what loyalty was."
Mr. Menges taught classes in the University's kinesiology department and was an emeritus faculty member. He is a member of the San Jose State University Sports Hall of Fame and the Anaheim High School Hall of Fame. His #22 baseball jersey is the only retired number connected with the San Jose State baseball program.
Mr. Menges enjoyed playing golf, badminton, tennis, card games and fishing. According to Gregg Menges, his dad taught him how to bodysurf. Mr. Menges also knew his way on a basketball court. His Navy team, LST 751, was two-time South Pacific champions winning 102 out of 104 games during his 22-month service to his country.
"If decades were innings, he pitched a complete game," his son Gregg said.
Mr. Menges is predeceased by Leona (Schwartzbach) Menges, his wife of 60 years. He is survived by daughter Gayle Menges Fulton, son Gregg and daughter-in-law Leslie Menges, son Gary and daughter-in-law Barbara Menges, seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
A celebration of Mr. Menges' life is planned for Friday, June 17, 2:00 p.m., at the Gazebo Park in the Villages of San Jose. In lieu of flowers, donations in Mr. Menges' name can be made to The Spartan Foundation, One Washington Square, San Jose, CA 95192-0062.