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Raymond L. Willsey
Sept. 30, 1928 - Nov. 4, 2013
Resident of Hailey, Idaho and Palm Desert, CA
Ray Willsey, a remarkable football coach during a turbulent time at UC Berkeley, died suddenly on November 4th at his home in Hailey, Idaho. Not just a great coach, he exemplified class and decency. He was 85.
From humble beginnings on a farm in Saskatchewan, Canada, Ray's achievements in football spanned the globe, including Canada, the United States and Europe. Regarded as a warrior and a gentleman, he is best remembered for his years as head coach of UC Berkeley during the 60's and with the Raiders during their Championship era in the 1980's. Often called "The Minister of Defense", his 1968 "Bear Minimum" defense at Cal held three opponents scoreless and yielded only 10 points a game.
Ray served in the US Coast Guard, stationed in Kodiak, Alaska for three years before starting his football career. After discharging from the USCG, he attended Santa Ana College and as quarterback guided the Dons to a pair of Eastern Conference titles and an appearance in the 1949 Junior Rose Bowl. He transferred to UC Berkeley and played for legendary coach and mentor, Pappy Waldorf. In 1952's Big Game, Ray replaced the starting quarterback and led the Bears to a 26-0 victory over Stanford. This was followed by three championship seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos as a player in the CFL. Ray then transitioned into coaching as a charter member of Darrell Royal's
University of Texas
In 1964, at the age of 36, Ray became Cal's head football coach. He brought "Texas-style" football to the West Coast, coaching the Bears for eight seasons. During this tumultuous time, tear gas and anti-war protests were the norm on campus. Craig Morton, Cal's quarterback, best sums it up; "To do what he did at Cal during those times was absolutely incredible. Nobody could have faced such odds and achieved the success he did. To Coach, everybody was special and nobody was "extra" special. He will truly be missed."
After four years as Defensive Coordinator for the St. Louis Cardinals, Ray returned to the Bay Area as an assistant coach with the Oakland Raiders. His nine years with the Raiders included two Super Bowl titles. Frank Hawkins, a former Raider running back recalls his advice; "Football is 20% skill and 80% heart. It's not the size of the man, it's the size of the fight within the man."
Following the Raiders, Ray joined NFL Europe League for four seasons. His teams won three World Bowl titles. He left the sidelines to work at NFL headquarters in New York as Director of Player Personnel, NFL Europe League. He retired in 2004. In retirement, he stayed involved with the "Pappy's Boys" Alumni Club, a group of teammates that played during the 1946 - 1956 Pappy Waldorf era at Cal. In 2002 the University honored Ray with the Glenn T. Seaborg Award, given to a former Cal football player for his career accomplishments.
Ray is survived by his partner of 30 years, Joanne May, daughters LeeAnn Willsey Fairfield and husband Dick, Janet Willsey Johnson and husband Keith, Louise Willsey Poole and husband Colin. He leaves behind five grandchildren; Matthew and Andrew Johnson, Jack, Kate and Henry Poole, and niece Cynthia Adams, great-nephew Bradley Kenton Willsey. He was preceded in death by his former wife Barbara Bigelow Willsey and his sister Audree Willsey Kenton.
In memory, donations can be made to "Pappy's Boys" to fund football scholarships. Mail to: 3010 Rossmoor Parkway #1, Walnut Creek, CA 94595
A memorial service will be held in Berkeley in Spring, 2014.
Published in Inside Bay Area on Nov. 10, 2013
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"Ray and I first met as classmates at Tustin Union High School, Tustin Ca. We played football together..."
"On the rare occasions that Ned and I spent time with Ray, we remember how he was always so interested in..."
"A friend when he was Head coach at Cal who put winning football back on the map at Berkeley. A true..."
- John Ducato
"I have a great admiration for Coach. Not only was he a coach but a mentor and a friend. I will truly..."
- Kenny King
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