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From The Sports Desk: Coach Briggs loved life, job

February 15, 2011|By Steve Virgen, steve.virgen@latimes.com
(Daily Pilot File…)

A little less than four years ago, Paul Briggs gave me a quote that basically summed up what he thought of his life.

Briggs, a former Orange Coast College football assistant and a high school coaching legend in Bakersfield, died on Monday at age 90 while in an assisted care facility.

He coached for 57 years, including 20 seasons at OCC. At Bakersfield High, he guided the Drillers to a 210-99-15 record. He was such a great mentor to many, and one of my all-time favorite people.

I am saddened by his death, but happy that he appeared to have lived such a full life.

"It's a good life," Briggs said in June, 2007. "I still look back on it and I wouldn't change a damn thing."

I interviewed Coach Briggs for a story in 2003, three years after I had written a column about following him on the sideline during a football game. He was very kind to me. He invited me to his home for dinner for the interview.

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He gave me a tour of his house. Since he knew my love for football, he showed me countless photos of his playing days with the Detroit Lions, and even some of his college games at Colorado.

He showed me all his coaching awards, including the plaque that read: 1972 National High School Coach of the Year.

When he showed me a special medal he held back tears as he told me war stories. He had earned the Purple Heart with the Navy while fighting in World War II. In Tuesday's Bakersfield Californian, Coach Briggs' life was detailed in a great article. In the story it says, he earned the Purple Heart after being hit by shrapnel in the nose and back during a Japanese kamikaze attack. He also earned a Bronze star for bravery.

During my interview with him, Briggs expressed his love for God, his wife, his family and football.

I shared with him the challenges I faced in my quest to become a sports writer. I told him I loved the game too.

"If a man loves his work, he's going to be a happy man," Briggs told me.

After the interview I remember thinking a book could have been written about the man. So many were touched by him and you can see that in the Californian story. At OCC, Coach Briggs also made an impact on several people, including Eddie Johnson, a former Newport Harbor High quarterback.

Eddie was the punter at OCC. He went on to star at Idaho and was later drafted by the Minnesota Vikings.

Coach Briggs used to love talking about Eddie. But he was that way with most of his players. He and his late wife, Sally, had one daughter, so he looked at all his football players as his own sons.

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