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John Harte/ The Californian

South High coach John Wren giving a chalk talk to his team before a practice.

It's a sad day in the Kern County football community: South High coach John Wren, 44, died suddenly in his sleep Tuesday morning, leaving behind a legacy that goes well beyond that of a football coach.

I've talked to many people today who shared many anecdotes, most of them reiterating the same basic message: John Wren loved football, but he was much more than a football coach. (You can read his full obituary here.)

And so I'll add my own small John Wren vignette. I've had many an occasion to call Wren over the years, to check on a player's name, ask about the upcoming season, get access to practice or the score of an out-of-town game, etc. And every time Wren answered the phone, I would get the same greeting: "This is coach Wren." But looking at it written that way does it no justice. Wren was so brusque, so businesslike, that the guttural sentence came out more like this: "This coachWren," with an implied, "I've got work to do, so let's get to the point." Of course, that would often be followed by some helpful information or a sales pitch on one of his players and how well he was doing.

Yes, Wren was the football coach's football coach. He yelled at his players because he cared deeply. He studied opponents, took his team to camps all over the state, went to coaching clinics all over the country, anything to help his alma mater and the program he loved at South.

But John Wren was also a devout Mormon and family man who cared as much about the boys he was raising (and in many cases, he really was like a father to some of his players) and helping them become men as anything else. Friends say Wren would always be the first to help someone in need, and South High football was in need when he took over in 2006.

South High is in need again this week, so think of the Rebels as we all mourn John Wren, a good coach and better man who passed on too soon.