High school sports figures who make a lasting impact ultimately are remembered for how they coached up their players, treated everyone around them and conducted themselves.
Winning adds to a coach’s resume and legacy and such was the case with the beloved Benny Pierce, the longtime Los Gatos resident and Saratoga High football coach. Pierce was 89 years old when he died on Feb. 11, of natural causes.
He is survived by his son, Larry Pierce, his daughter Brenda Skrabe, and grandchildren Brad Pierce, Lindsay Picone and Kelsie Skrabe.
Services will be held at Venture Christian Church in Los Gatos on March 25 at 10:30am, followed by a reception where refreshments will be provided.
“Losing my father, it’s a huge loss, but more than anything, I feel so thankful and it’s such a blessing because both of my parents [mom Mignon died in 2015] were so loving and special,” Larry said. “So we were just fortunate to have them for so long. He did it right. If you look at how someone who lived the life he did, he did it perfectly.”
Benny Pierce had a record of 269-89-4 covering 34 seasons at Saratoga, including 16 league championships, four Central Coast Section playoff titles and three undefeated seasons. He was the section’s all-time wins leader until Bellarmine’s Mike Janda passed him in 2015, 21 years after Pierce had coached his final game.
Before getting into coaching, Pierce was a four-sport standout athlete at Los Gatos High and a quarterback at San Jose State where he threw passes to Bill Walsh—yes, the same Bill Walsh who coached the San Francisco 49ers to multiple Super Bowls and is considered one of the greatest coaches in NFL history.
Saratoga was such a dominant power during Pierce’s tenure that one of his teams in the mid-1970s sent off 10 players to Division I programs, eight of whom received full-ride scholarships, according to local high school sports historian Chuck Perry.
Larry said it was his dad’s love for competition that fueled his drive on and off the field.
“He was a super gentle, nice man, but also super competitive,” Larry said. “He just loved to compete. It didn’t have to be about anything. Whatever it was, he just loved to compete. It could be cards, golf, football, whatever.”
Longtime Los Gatos High football coach Mark Krail and Pierce’s coaching careers never overlapped, but the two got to know each other through some golf outings and a shared relationship with the late Myron Zaccheo.
“To me Benny has always been the epitome of class and humility,” Krail said. “He was very close to one of my mentors [Zaccheo]. Myron and Benny were very similar, always willing to help and share the knowledge they had of the game and their openness of being a mentor in their older years if you will. And I always appreciated that about Benny.”
Krail continued: “In the CCS community, coaches are kind of a fraternity, especially the older guys who did it for 30 years or more. They’re certainly a rare breed now. But Benny was one of them. He definitely stayed involved in the high school game [upon retiring], and the impressions I had of him was a man of humility and grace and very competitive. He would beat your tail but he did it the right way.”
After Benny’s retirement from coaching, Larry said his dad filled his competitive juices on the links. In fact, Larry said Benny was golfing as recently as nine months ago and had a hole-in-one at “87 or 88 years old.”
“He spent a lot of time golfing, especially in the last seven years,” Larry said.
Beyond his winning record, Benny endeared himself in the community in the way he went about life, his children said.
“My Dad has always made me proud,” Brenda Skrabe said in a San Jose Mercury News article. “He has never compromised his values to take the easy road. I can hold my head high when I say he is my father. When Larry and I were young, the only negative side was that we would get held up wherever we went—church, out to dinner, a game, shopping, etc.—because he would be recognized. He always took the time to talk to whomever approached him and reminisce.”
Larry echoed his sister’s sentiments.
“It wasn’t about his success on the field, it was about who he was as a person,” Larry said. “People can see how genuine he was, how loving he was, how compassionate he was. His values were so strong and he was a character-builder.”
As impactful as Benny was to the players he coached, Larry said his dad received equal enrichment from the athletes he mentored.
“The kids were special to him,” Larry said. “He just cherished them.”
When news got out that Pierce was in the hospital last summer, the outpouring of support was touching.
“You can’t believe how many visitors came from August  until he died,” Larry said. “Everyday there were either ex-players, family, other friends visiting. It was overwhelming. Everyday people would just come and it was really special in how they reached out. They adored him but it went both ways because these people impacted his life as well.”