GLENDALE — [UPDATED: 4:53 p.m.] Roy Vujovich, who coached football at three area schools for nearly 20 years and established a reputation for instilling toughness in his players, has died. He was 83.
Vujovich died of natural causes at his home in North Hills on Saturday, according to his daughter, Mila Vujovich-La Barre.
“He was a man full of passion who always kept his word,” Vujovich-La Barre said Monday. “He was well-mannered and a true gentleman.
“He got to know people and truly respected where everybody came from.”
Vujovich, who was born in Los Angeles on Nov. 14, 1926, coached at Glendale High from 1952-65 before moving on to Glendale Community College in 1966 and Hoover High from 1969-74. Vujovich graduated with a bachelors degree in mathematics from UCLA, where he also played split end on the university’s football team under legendary Coach Red Sanders.
Vujovich made a name for himself in the coaching ranks locally while also teaching in the Glendale Unified School District for many years. Under Vujovich, the area produced some top-notch talent that would go on to earn all-league and All-CIF honors and additional excellence at the collegiate and professional levels. Among the many who played for Vujovich were Al Rosso, Tod Thompson, Damon Bame, Steve Moore, George McGowan, Jim Beckenhauer, Bob Gagliano, Randy Tidwell, Bill French, Greg Erke, Dave Pennial and Sid Stark.
At Glendale, Vujovich guided the Nitros to 83 victories, four Foothill League championships and two trips to the CIF semifinals. Glendale posted undefeated regular seasons in 1955 and 1962.
Rosso, an all-Foothill League and All-CIF member, excelled at left tackle while playing for Vujovich at Glendale.
“He was a task master and he always had high expectations of you,” said Rosso, who played at Glendale from 1953-55. “He always found a way to get the most out of his players.
“You didn’t want to disappoint him, so you always wanted to go out there and play your very best. We looked upon him like he was our second parent just by the way he mentored us.”
Thompson, who graduated from Glendale in 1954 after playing guard for Vujovich, said he forged a close relationship with the coach as a player and learned about various aspects of the game on and off the field.
“I was real close with Roy and idolized him literally,” Thompson said. “He was big and muscular and had that big voice.
“He was a tough guy, but he was always fair.
“I went with him to games to scout other teams and I learned a lot from him. We would write down things and then discuss it. He was the most influential man in my life other than my father.”
Vujovich left Glendale to become head coach at Glendale college for the 1966 season. The Vaqueros finished that campaign 4-4-1.
He had some raw talent that came through the pipeline, including Moore, who he coached at Glendale and Glendale college.
Moore, who played running back and defensive back at Glendale before playing wide receiver and defensive back at Glendale college, said Vujovich proved to be a suitable role model.
“In the beginning, he was great for me because he saw potential in me on and off the field and he wanted to direct that potential,” said Moore, who went on to coach high school football before serving as an assistant coach at West Point and at Rice University and then holding various coaching positions with the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks. “He taught toughness that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else and he gave me that gift, which was and still is a huge attribute.
“He just helped me out in so many ways.”
Vujovich, who graduated from Garfield High and enlisted in the United States Navy during World War II, left the area for about three years to take a job as a sales representative for a furniture business in Northern California. However, he returned to the teaching and coaching profession in 1969 at Hoover, where he stayed on through the 1974 season.
In his six seasons patrolling the sidelines for the Tornadoes, Hoover won four meetings against cross-town rival Glendale. Gagliano was the quarterback for the Tornadoes during part of Vujovich’s stint with the Tornadoes and later would go on to enjoy a successful career in the NFL.
“He just loved coaching,” Vujovich-LaBarre said. “He really admired his players and he was a part of their maturation process.
“He took his players under his wing.”
Vujovich is survived by his wife, Christina Holland Vujovich of North Hills, and his first wife, Peggy Davis of La Jolla; two sisters; seven children; 11 grandchildren; one great grandchild, and numerous nieces and nephews.