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West High to name stadium for legendary football coach

You knew this was coming, because Gean Plaga is an icon to West High football.

Tonight, during halftime of the homecoming game against Granger, West's football stadium will be named in honor of Plaga.

"I've done a lot of good things for West High," he said of the plan, which "has been in the hopper for four or five years. "Ray Hale, head of the alumni association has pushed it."

Meanwhile, more accolades have been pouring in.

"Some guys are great coaches, but not individuals," said former Panther linebacker/tight end Dave O'Bagy. "He's both." According to O'Bagy, Plaga seems to be the epitome of what a football coach should be: tough, but compassionate, as well as accountable, respectable and friendly.

"He was a great coach and instituted great discipline," praised Don Holtry, his West successor. "The kids knew he was in charge."

Plaga's success "carried over into progress," continued Holtry. "He demanded respect and kept us going for a long time."

Indeed he did.

Holtry built his achievements upon his predecessor's in keeping Panther football strong and vibrant.

"He was a good judge of character," said O'Bagy. "He knew how to handle people from all walks of life."

Plaga was head football coach from 1967-84, when he compiled a 147-46-3 record, including four state championships in seven title games the Panthers played. Even with three losses in the state finals, "Every time was a highlight" to play for the championship.

The former coach won 10 region championships at West.

Plaga was also West's baseball coach from 1961-91, piling up three state championships, 14 region titles and three state American Legion crowns.

In 1975, West romped through the football schedule to finish 12-0, win the state crown and was nationally-ranked by Scholastic Magazine. During Plaga's first state championship in 1973, he was named both National and Utah Coach of the Year. He also earned state coach of the year in 1980 and 1984.

In 1985, Plaga received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Federation of Scholastic Coaches Association. He was also inducted into the Utah High School Activities Association's Circle of Fame in 1989. Plaga seemed to relish playing the best competition he could find.

His favorite game of the series was the Panthers' triple-overtime win at Skyline.

"Skyline used to be a real game for us," he said, referring to before the rivalry was put on indefinite hold.

Plaga's credo as coach was "Don't lose any good players and keep good players on the field. Don't lose any to eligibility." He proudly recalls having very high graduation rates over his career as head coach. The only two athletes who didn't graduate as players eventually earned a diploma.

The former coach said he had many good players, but "You only need seven or eight real good players. Build around them. Tradition is huge."

Fifty-six all-state players helped the Panthers to build a formidable standard of achievement.

Plaga had seven two-time all-state players in O'Bagy, quarterback Steve Marshall, tackle Greg Chile, TE Reggie Wilson, guard/middle linebacker Mark Blosch, tackle Mark Thompson and QB Cory Morton. Region-wide most-valuable-players from West were Blosch, Chile, O'Bagy, tailbacks Steve Peake and Jeff Takanaka and fullback Perry Bradford.

Current Panther coach Steve Schreiter was one of three who played for Plaga as a sophomore.

"He was good," said the former coach, who noted Schreiter later achieved all-state running back status in 1978. In 1983, Plaga asked Schreiter if he would coach West's sophomores "and I haven't left coaching since."

Ironically, Plaga's sons, Brad and Todd played for Granite High during the heyday of the Panthers-Farmers' rivalry.

"They were both good athletes," said Plaga, who noted discussion of their games weren't a big deal at home. But choosing sides was "tough" for the boys' mother, Pat Plaga, she conceded.

Former Plaga assistant Gary "Bud" Murray "was one of the greatest motivators," praised his boss, "because he did great things." For example, watermelon busts during two-a-day preseason practices featured skit competition between guards, tackles, centers, tight ends and split ends. Players once wore hula skirts.

Other motivational techniques included giving stickers of hatchets, footballs and stars for competitive play.

Plaga's success provided opportunities to coach a state all-star team in 1973. When an assistant objected to a coaching assignment, head coach Plaga ordered, "I told you, that you better learn to coach the (defensive) line, because I'm not doing it."

In 1974, the roles, and objections, between the coaches were reversed.