Bill Trumbo, who coached both the Sonoma State and Santa Rosa Junior College men’s basketball teams to league championships, died Sunday at his home in Hawaii.
Trumbo, who had advanced Alzheimer’s, was 79.
Trumbo took the reins of the Sonoma State University men’s basketball program in 1972 when it was in dire straits. The Cossacks, as they were then known, were 3-24 and 0-12 in the Far West Conference the season before Trumbo arrived. He orchestrated what has been described as one of the sharpest turnarounds in NCAA history.
In his first season, SSU went 18-9, won the Far West Conference and made the NCAA Div. II tournament.
In his second season, the Cossacks were 18-10, including a school-record 13 straight wins. He was named Far West Coach of the Year. The team never lost a home game.
It was a remarkable reversal for a once-faltering program.
“We didn’t know him. We didn’t know him at all, but we knew basketball,” said Tom Fitchie, a star player at Montgomery who signed on with the Cossacks under Trumbo that first year. “As soon as we had a couple practices, we knew he was the real deal.
“He was a great coach,” he said. “We had some really good players, but he put it all together.”
But he wasn’t easy.
“Our practices were brutal,” Fitchie said. “Our practices were very demanding. But I did nothing but admire him and respect him to this day.”
After their great success, the university then dropped the basketball program, citing financial woes.
After SSU folded its team, Trumbo moved across the county to take over the SRJC program, where he worked similar magic with the Bear Cubs.
He coached at Santa Rosa for nine years, compiling a 212-68 record. That run included seven conference titles and three trips to the Final 8.
Fitchie followed Trumbo to the JC and helped assist his old coach.
“He could really teach you,” he said. “But if you weren’t doing what he wanted, he was going to let you know.”
Fitchie, who went on to coach at Montgomery High for 31 years, said he used Trumbo’s lessons in his coaching from day one.
Some of it was strategy and drills, but a lot of it was communication and understanding people, Fitchie said.
“How to deal with kids,” he said. “He was very personable off the court. He was a good guy.”
He was also nomadic. Trumbo’s resume was extensive and he rarely stopped working. And he was hungry for a challenge. He led at least two schools from the NAIA to the NCAA.
His career included stints at Hawaii-Hilo, Cal State Monterey Bay, Santa Barbara City College and coaching the Kenyan national team. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame at both SSU and SRJC, and was inducted into the UH-Hilo Hall of Fame in 2014 after serving as athletic director there from 1990-2000.
“He was a fabulous coach,” Fitchie said.
You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud, “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”