Longtime college and NFL coach Ted Tollner serves on the Board of Directors for the San Diego Bowl Game Association. After a 48-year career that included head coaching stints at USC and San Diego State as well as several stops throughout the NFL, Tollner, 74, retired in 2011.
Tollner, who grew up in Palo Alto, Calif., was the starting quarterback on the 1960 Cal Poly football team that suffered a plane crash that killed 22 people, including 16 of his teammates following a game in Toledo, Ohio.
“He’d be the first to tell you he’s had a lot of success and a number or failures,” former San Francisco 49ers coach Tom Cable said in a 2011 story in the UTSanDiego. “Somewhere in between all that you kind of find your place. He’s been able to do that. It blows me away almost daily what he knows, how much he knows, what he adds to a team or a staff. His experience is incredible.”
Tollner and his wife, Barbara, have been married 55 years. They live in Pacific Beach and have three adult children – Linda, Tammy and Bruce – and 10 grandchildren.
Read here to learn a bit more about Ted Tollner:
Q: How did you get your start in coaching? When and where did you start?
I started coaching and teaching at Woodside High School in northern California. I was very excited about the opportunity and earned a whopping $6,300 per year.
Q: Did you play football as kid? In high school? College?
I loved playing all the sports as a kid. I was on the football and baseball team at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. One of my most difficult experiences in life was being part of the 1960 Cal Poly plane crash in Toledo, Ohio. We lost many teammates and friends.
Q: Who did you look to as a mentor through your career, and why?
I did not have just one mentor. I was most fortunate to work for several outstanding men. Claude Gilbert, LaVell Edwards, John Robinson, Marv Levy, Chuck Knox, to name a few. But, a man named Paul Braunreiter was the first coach I worked for at Woodside High. He was a great example for me as a young coach. He said to have a sound philosophy, be consistent with your discipline and always have the student interest first.
Q: The roll of a head coach has changed a great deal over the past 15-12 years. Would you do it all over again?
Yes. Coaching is a tremendous and rewarding profession. On the field, teaching has not changed that much. You must be able to teach them “what to do” assignments and “how to do it” technique.
Off the field responsibilities have changed. You spend a lot of time on player conduct and academic progress in college. Social media and spots talk shows have also influenced your job.
Q: What is the best advice you ever received? From who?
“Coaching is not about you.” It is about making the player a better player and person. With all the pressure on winning, that’s not always easy.
Q: Is there a college football team you always secretly pull for?
Cal Poly SLO. Not a major conference program but they almost dropped football after the plane crash.
Q: Do you have one game that is most memorable to you, regardless of the outcome?
Losing a close game always seems to stick with you longer during the season. Now, reflecting back on a more positive note, I would say our 1985 Rose Bowl victory at USC over Ohio State was an extremely memorable day. The day and the setting were perfect. All of our family was there to share the experience.
Q: What sports team is your favorite (any sport)? Favorite player?
I pull for teams that have coaches I have worked with and respect. Obviously this changes from year to year because of the ‘coaching carousel.’
Q: Do you miss coaching? Or is it nice to be on the other side?
I miss game day and the interaction with players and coaches. That said, I retired in 2011 at 71 years young and 48 years of coaching. It was time for me and I truly enjoy my time family and travel with my wife, Barbara. Having the time and being a part of the San Diego bowl games in most interesting.
Q: What was your ideal day off, during the off-season?
Having time to watch one of our grandchildren compete in a high school or club competition and after the game, enjoy a meal together and catch up with what is going on in their life.