By 1952 Hal Sherbeck was already a Grizzly athletics legend, having lettered twice in three different sports at the University of Montana.
But he really made his impact after.
Sherbeck passed away Sunday in Temecula, California, of natural causes at the age of 86. The Big Sandy native played basketball, football and baseball at UM before embarking on a tremendous coaching career that spanned from Missoula to California’s Fullerton College and back.
In 31 seasons in Fullerton, from 1961-91, his football teams won 241 games — a record — lost 71 and tied eight. As the wins mounted, so did the number of players he sent to success on the gridiron and off.
Sherbeck’s most notable football players were quarterbacks Jim Fassel and Steve DeBerg.
It was Fassel who brought Sherbeck a fair amount of fame in 2001 while coaching the New York Giants to the Super Bowl. Before that, it was Sherbeck who made Fassel a starting college quarterback at Fullerton in 1967 and gave him his first coaching job — as a volunteer assistant — in 1973.
“He really got me started in coaching,” Fassel told Newsday ahead of Super Bowl XXXV, to which he brought Sherbeck. “There are just some people who have been a big part of my life, and they’re all coming to the game.”
DeBerg spent time at Fullerton before heading to San Jose State and then embarking on an NFL career that spanned 21 seasons (1978-98) and 34,000 passing yards.
Sherbeck also made an imprint on Missoula. He spent four seasons as Missoula County High School football coach from 1952-55 and guided the Spartans to three state titles.
From 1956-61 he served as UM’s head baseball coach while also pulling duties as an assistant for football and basketball.
After his final season at Fullerton, which ended with a 45-13 win over Santa Barbara in the 1991 Potato Bowl, Sherbeck returned to Montana.
He helped the Griz football team, either as a consultant, restricted-earnings coach or volunteer, from the early 1990s until the early 2000s.
While Sherbeck made his impact in Montana — including a 57-yard interception return in UM’s 38-0 win over Montana State in the 1951 Brawl of the Wild, California was home. It was in the last year that Sherbeck’s family moved him back there from Polson as his health declined.
Sherbeck’s Fullerton teams won three national junior college titles, in 1965, 1967 – with Fassel as QB – and 1983. The Hornets went 47 games without a loss from 1964-68.
Sherbeck’s wife Dona, whom he met at a homecoming parade at UM, passed away in 2008. He is survived by his children Lori, Eric and David, and two grandchildren.
The family has already had a private ceremony, Lori Sherbeck said. Another is tentatively planned for the spring at Fullerton College, when her father’s legacy possibly takes a final step.
Efforts are underway to erect a statue in his honor, at what is now called Sherbeck Field.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested memorial donations be made to the Fullerton College Foundation in Sherbeck’s name.
Donations may be mailed to Bob Jensen, Fullerton College, 321 Chapman Ave., Fullerton, California, 92632.