On paper, Jack Albiani was a great coach. State championships by his student athletes go back to the mid-1960s, and records set at that time reportedly still stand.
More important, talk to those who knew him and he was a great guy. Supportive, dedicated, kind, humble, and devoted to Modesto Junior College, where he coached track and cross country for 28 years, then later came out of semi-retirement to coach one more.
Albiani, a record-holding sprinter in his own right, died Saturday at his Jamestown home at age 88, his wife, Valerie, reported.
Jim Peters, a 1966 Piedmont High grad who was coached by Albiani to a state championship and state record in the discus, said the outpouring he’s seen on social media about his friend’s death struck him right in the heart.
“It’s all about his kindness and the respect he had for the kids he was coaching,” he said, “and the coaching world doesn’t always reflect that. Coaches can be autocratic and demanding, but all the comments have been about how kind and respectful he was.”
He did work a lot of coaching magic, though. Records from Albiani’s seven years at Piedmont remain, Peters said. MJC professor Mary Shea, who coached women’s track and field here for 18 years, said the same is true at her campus. She and other coaches have had many successes, she said, but have yet to break some set during his time.
She never got her athletes to break the 4x100m record, for example, and got close to Janet Taylor’s 11.91 for the 100 meters, set in 1989, but it still stands. “His time there is solid. He had incredible marks,” Shea said.
Times and distances aren’t what first come to mind when Shea thinks of Albiani, though.
He was one of the first people she got to know when she started at Modesto Junior College in 2001, she recalled, because though he had retired and then moved to Jamestown in 1999, he was around the department a lot and serving on the Athletic Hall of Fame Committee. (Side note: Albiani is the only person to be inducted into the MJC Athletics Hall of Fame twice — first as a student athlete, and later as a head coach, Athletic Director and Dean Nick Stavrianoudakis said.)
“I immediately took to him,” Shea said. “He was funny, kind, supportive. He loved MJC and throughout the years, especially the last couple, I got to hear a lot of his stories. He told me that when he was younger, in high school, he’d get the paper and read about MJC and it was basically an honor for him to be be accepted on the team here. He lived in Livingston, a small town, and when he would read The Bee, there was so much information about MJC, the traditions, the successes of the sports program, and that’s what attracted him to our college.”
MJC, which named an invitational track and field meet in his honor, always held a special place in her friend’s heart, Shea said. He also said he was so happy to be among the relatively small community of track and field coaches, she recalled. “He cared so much about the program’s success,” Shea said. “It was never about him, it was about what we could do for our student athletes.”
Stavrianoudakis concurred, saying that when he joined the MJC athletics department five years ago, Albiani welcomed him and volunteered to be of any assistance he could. “He never talked about himself, he was very humble. He just wanted to help.”
From Jamestown, Albiani would participate in Hall of Fame Committee meetings via conference call, Stavrianoudakis said, and as recently as a week and a half ago was helping evaluate candidates for the next round of inductees. “The history of this department is that we invite former athletes and coaches to stay active,” the AD said, “and he’s definitely one who took advantage of that. I can’t say enough about him.”
Albiani’s institutional knowledge was invaluable, Shea said. He remained sharp as a tack and could remember when all the coaches came and left, when all the athletes did this and that. As he rattled off stats, she’d fill page after page in note pads. “I had to get all his information down as he got older,” Shea said. His wife, Valerie, “would sit there and shake her head and wonder, ‘How does he know all this?’”
Albiani was born in 1930 in Merced. As a student at MJC, he was team captain in 1953, the state record-holder in the 100-yard dash and MJC record-holder in the 220-yard dash. He was also a state meet medal winner in 1952 and 1953.
From MJC, Albiani transferred to San Jose State University, where he helped break the school record in the 440-yard relay and was elected team captain in 1955.
His coaching career began at San Jose State in the spring of 1956. Before landing at MJC in 1969, he coached the U.S. Army Track & Field Team from 1956-58 while he was in the medical corps, then at South San Francisco and Piedmont high schools and Contra Costa College.
Albiani retired from his full-time position at MJC in 1997, but continued teaching part time through 2004. In 2003-04, he served as interim head men’s track and field coach for the college. His tenure at MJC produced 11 state champions, including high jumper Tyke Peacock and shot putter Dot-Marie Jones. Both also were national record holders, and Peacock was a world champion.
Albiani was a great motivator of young people, recalled his Piedmont student Peters, who remained friends with his former coach and even visited him in Jamestown in 2016. Now retired himself and coaching at tiny Asotin Jr. Sr. High School in Asotin, Washington, Peters said he employs a couple of Albiani methods.
“If you accomplished a personal best (at Piedmont), his wife would bake you a pie,” Peters remembered. “’My wife baked 17 pies one week,’ he told me once.”
Peters revived that tradition when he started at Asotine, but promised pies for school records. His first year — 14 records, 14 pies. There was one other change, too. “I get Costco pies.”
In addition to his wife, Valerie, Albiani is survived by two sons, Greg and Jon; five grandchildren, Dylan, Logan, Sean, Stormy and Amber; and several nieces and nephews.
Albiani requested there not be a public funeral or celebration of life, but his family will have a private burial. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to: Modesto Junior College Hall of Fame, Attn. Athletic Director Nick Stavrianoudakis, Modesto Junior College, 435 College Ave., Modesto, CA 95350.