Mick Founts didn’t know much about Manteca when he interviewed for a job as an English teacher at the city’s namesake high school.
Founts is among the Manteca High coaches being honored during a dinner on Saturday, May 13, at Chez Shari.
A Merced native, Founts had just finished up his college football career at Humboldt State University when he answered an ad for a teacher and coach not far from where he grew up in the heart of the Central Valley.
Little did he know he would be making a decision that would last for nearly half a century.
“They told me after I interviewed that they needed a teacher as well as a football and sometimes wrestling coach, and that they would call me,” Founts said. “And later that night they called me back at my parents’ house and said that they wanted another interview and they hired me.
“It wasn’t until I got back to Humboldt that I told our head recruiter about where I was going to be coaching that he told me about how much I was going to have the best experience possible by coming to Manteca, and that in coach Walker Vick I was going to be around a guy that could really mentor me. And he was right.”
Under the tutelage of the legendary Manteca High School coach – for whom the football team’s fieldhouse is named – Founts cut his teeth in the hardscrabble Valley Oak League during a time when only the team with the best record made the playoffs.
While he was used to larger schools coming from Merced, he also learned that the level of football played in some of the smaller towns not only competed with what he knew from his high school days, but sometimes even exceeded that – the dedication of the players and the support of the community truly creating an atmosphere that was unlike anything he had ever experienced before.
In the five years that he coached with Vick and a staff of Manteca High legends, Founts learned not only the ins and the outs of football in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, but also tricks of the trade from those who had acquired them over a lifetime of being around the game – studying the nuances of positons that were foreign to him to get a better grasp of how things worked in given systems overall, and how to break down the actual film of the games that Vick would start dissecting first thing Saturday morning.
That dedication, Founts said, really motivated him to learn as much as he possibly could.
“I would see him in there watching film on Saturday and I wanted to know what he knew,” Founts said. “So I paid attention. He had a couple of us younger guys who wanted to bring what we knew from playing the college game, but we also wanted to learn from these other guys who had been doing this for a long longer than we had.
“Those ended up working out pretty well together.”
For five seasons, he learned the ways of Manteca football, and in 1981 took over the reins of the program from Vick – who finished his tenure at Manteca High with a 72-46-4 record. Founts, who would coach the team from 1981 through 1984, compiled a 24-16 record before stepping away from the program to pursue coaching at San Joaquin Delta College for several years before migrating into education administration.
Looking back on it now, Founts says that it’s kind of strange considering he never expected to spend more than a year or two at Manteca High School and actually had another job lined up in Washington that he had planned on taking until his wife nixed the idea.
“I had gone up there for the interview and they had offered me the job and when I talked to my wife she told me that was great, but that I was going to have a long commute because she wasn’t leaving Manteca,” he said with a laugh. “And that kind of ended that and things just kind of went from there.
“But when I started I had no idea that I would take over the reins of the program from Walker Vick or help continue that Manteca High legacy that he instilled in me.”
While he has been out of the classroom for some time now – Founts retired two years ago as the Superintendent for the San Joaquin County Office of Education – Founts said that he still follows and keeps tabs on Manteca High School football, and maintains a relationship with current head coach Eric Reis, who was a player in the program while he was still coaching the Buffaloes.
And just recently Founts was honored when one of the slogans that he instilled in players while he was involved with the program – “we will hit you” – was still being proudly used by Reis on t- shirts worn by players to pay tribute to the tradition of players before then that wore the green and white uniform and represented the City of Manteca.
“I think that Eric (Reis) has done a very good job of promoting those traditions that we learned about when we arrived here, and hasn’t let those things die out,” Founts said. “And there will come a time when he will step away from the program and the next person will come in and do the same thing because that’s what makes Manteca High School a very special place.
“That sense of tradition and those who came before you is still very much alive there, and I’ll always carry that with me.”
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.