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Legendary Driller coach Briggs dies at 90

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Paul Briggs, an icon among Kern County sports personalities, died Monday morning. He was 90.

Briggs was Bakersfield High School's head football coach from 1953-85, compiling a 210-99-15 won-lost-tie record with four Central Section championships.

But it was Briggs' impact on the thousands of athletes he coached and taught during his 33-year career at Bakersfield High that made him unique.

"Wins, losses -- they don't really matter," said Paul Golla, who's been the Drillers' head coach since 2005. "He's influenced so many human beings. There are so many men who have been successful because of Coach Briggs. And not only athletes, but also lawyers and doctors. It's incredible."

Briggs was like a father figure to so many of the young men who played for him.

"It's hard to imagine, next to my father, anyone who had more influence on me. There isn't one," said Jeff Siemon, who played for the Drillers from 1965-67 before a standout career as a linebacker at Stanford and with the Minnesota Vikings. "The shadow he cast was an enormous one. He impacted whoever played for him.

"What gave him influence: He's the most principled man I've ever known. There were certain virtues he believed in and he applied them to every situation. He never backed off from them."

Carl Bowser was a sophomore at BHS when Briggs came to Bakersfield in 1953. Bowser, who played college football at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and then became the head football coach and athletic director at Bakersfield College, said Briggs' influence led to that career.

"Everything he taught young men was learning about life," Bowser said. "His message was if you work hard and get with it, you've got a chance to succeed. He encouraged everyone to get it done academically and encouraged everyone to go to college. If not for BHS football, I probably would not have gone to college."

Briggs left his impact on many who didn't play football, said Pat Skrable who played for Briggs from 1963-65.

"People would be amazed how generous he was, not just with Drillers but kids from other schools," Skrable said. "It didn't matter what color you were or whether you were an athlete or not."

"He took care of families," said Bob Stone, who played for the Drillers in 1964. "He'd buy groceries for families. He'd buy shoes, he'd help dads get a job. It was more than X's and O's. ...

"He was a man of integrity who never made excuses. He was a friend to his players and over the years, the friendships remained.

"I'm happy for him now. I'm sad for myself, selfishly, but he will always be there in the hearts and minds of those who played for him. I feel bad for the guys who never got to play for him."

Briggs' Central Section championship teams were in 1954-56 and in 1967.

The section eliminated title games from 1957-66.

"They got tired of the Drillers winning it every year," Briggs would say. "And then when they brought it back, we won it again."

"He really put his stamp on Bakersfield football," said Rick Van Horne, who played for Briggs from 1976-78. "It's really too bad they discontinued the Valley championship.

"During those years, the Drillers probably would've won another six or seven Valley championships. There's a chance he could have set records that would never be touched today."

Briggs' only child, daughter Paula Parsons of Santa Ana, said her father was like the child who says he wants to grow up and be a doctor.

"When he was 10, he told his mother he would be a football player and a football coach," she said. "It was like his calling. He had an order: God, his country, his family and football. Those were the main things in his life."

She added: "My dad said he had thousands of sons but only one daughter."

Briggs was born in Providence, R.I., and grew up in Grand Junction, Colo. He played football for three years at the University of Colorado and in 1948 for the Detroit Lions before he began his coaching career in 1949 at Rocky Ford (Colo.) High School.

He was a member of at least five halls of fame: California Coaches Association, Bob Elias Kern County Sports, Bakersfield High, University of Colorado and Citizens Athletic Foundation and won numerous coaching honors.

Briggs was forced out as the Drillers' coach by the school principal in 1985 but kept coaching when he joined the Orange Coast College team as an assistant in 1986. He spent 20 years there before retiring in 2005 at the age of 85 after 57 years in coaching.

From 1908 through the 1985 season, Bakersfield High (known as Kern County Union High until 1945) had only three head coaches: Dwight "Goldie" Griffith from 1908-1945, Homer Beatty from 1946-1952 and Briggs.

"Like any older person, the kids didn't know who he was, and he didn't blow his own horn," said Mike Taylor, the Orange Coast head coach. Taylor and Briggs joined the Orange Coast staff as assistants in 1986.

"But in time, they realized he knew the game, and they truly cared for him," Taylor said. "Every kid who comes to Orange Coast asks how Coach Briggs is."

Briggs joined the Navy in 1943 and was stationed on the destroyer USS Daly.

He earned a Bronze Star for bravery and a Purple Heart after being hit by shrapnel in the nose and back during a Japanese kamikaze attack.

Briggs died while in an assisted care facility.

Funeral plans are incomplete, and several former players said some type of memorial service or roast in Briggs' honor will be held at a date to be determined.

Briggs is survived by daughter and son-in-law Paula and Tom Parsons of Santa Ana; grandsons Russell and Kevin Parsons; sisters Virginia Wilhite of Las Vegas and Janet Dodrill of Denver; five nieces and six nephews.

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Updated: 12/7/21