LCC’s Vice concludes extraordinary cross country coaching career

Bill Vice-coached La Costa Canyon teams captured 13 CIF Cross Country titles.
Bill Vice-coached La Costa Canyon teams captured 13 CIF Cross Country titles.
(Ken Grosse)

After 24 remarkable seasons coaching the boys’ and girls’ cross country and track & field distance programs at La Costa Canyon High School, Bill Vice recently announced that he was stepping down from his coaching role at the close of the fall 2021 season and, following the 2022-23 academic year, retiring from his teaching position at the school as well.

Vice departs as a “best of both worlds” coach—phenomenally successful while maintaining his integrity, program values and the unquestioned respect of his peers.

Virtually without fail or prodding, when asked about Vice, fellow San Diego prep cross country coaches talk about Bill Vice the man, not Bill Vice the coach.

Vice gives his 2018 girls team (that went on to win a CIF championship) pre-race instructions.
Vice gives his 2018 girls team (that went on to win a CIF championship) pre-race instructions.
(Ken Grosse)

Andy Corman, who has spent the last 10 years battling Vice’s teams in league and section competition as head coach at Canyon Crest Academy, had a response both well-informed and typical.

“What’s amazing about Bill is that the first time I talked with him and every time since, he’s made me feel like I was the only person in the room,” said Corman with emphasis. “He listened to me, could tell what I was trying to say, what I meant to say, and helped me see what I could do to solve whatever questions or problems I had—he’s just a good guy.”

“As a coach, I certainly respect him for the quality of his teams and what his teams have accomplished,” said veteran Cathedral Catholic mentor Dan Geiger. “But the biggest thing about Bill is that he does it the right way. He has a great attitude, gets along with other coaches, is in it for the right reasons and he installs that attitude in his team. On top of it all, he’s very humble.”

It’s not like Vice doesn’t have a full catalog of achievements to discuss. In cross country, his girls’ squads won 11 league championships (including nine straight), eight CIF section titles in a nine-year stretch (2010-18) and had five podium finishes at the CIF State Meet. On the boys’ side, LCC piled up seven league crowns, five CIF banners and two State Meet runner-up slots. Between the two teams they also wound up second at the San Diego CIF Championships seven times.

On the individual side, Vice produced 18 CIF Cross Country champions (eight boys and 10 girls between 2005 and 2021). The brother-sister trio of Darren, Steven and Kristin Fahy accounted for seven of those with Darren and Kristin adding State titles as well.

Vice got his prep baptism while still in college as a multi-sport coach at his alma mater, Montville High School, in Connecticut. After graduating from UConn in 1984, he shifted over to East Lyme High School in a teaching/coaching capacity and in 1988 moved to California for a similar position at Earl Warren Middle School in Solana Beach where he had cross country, basketball and track & field assignments.

That led to head basketball/assistant track & field coaching roles plus a classroom slot at San Dieguito High School in 1991. In 1996-97, La Costa Canyon opened and San Dieguito began transitioning into San Dieguito Academy (SDA) which brought a temporary curtailment of its athletic program. Vice accepted a teaching/coaching offer at LCC and, in 1998, began his stint directing the cross country/track & field distance programs that would eventually situate the school among San Diego’s elite. The accomplishments may have exceeded even his own expectations.

“When I started at LCC, I don’t know if I envisioned what’s happened, but I certainly wanted it,” he recalled. “At Montville we had a history of success and our girls won the state cross country championship my first year. So, early on I’d seen it but knew I had to be careful because that kind of thing takes time and the competition in California is so tough.

“I remember my first year at LCC, we had a small team and our motto was ‘miles of smiles’ and that’s what we emphasized. Even as we developed and improved we tried to preserve that aspect of the culture.”

In the growth period, there was some individual success, but team-wise, it was a slow build. In 2003, year five, Gillian Fitch became the Mavericks’ first CIF State Meet qualifier and things trended upward from there.

Jacob and Garrett Stanford, who went 1-2 at the 2018 CIF Championships share a post-race moment with their coach.
Jacob and Garrett Stanford, who went 1-2 at the 2018 CIF Championships share a post-race moment with their coach.
(Ken Grosse)

Despite the bright outlook, Vice briefly considered leaving the coaching ranks in 2004. “I told my assistant coach that it would probably be my last year,” he said. “I had been coaching since 1981 so I already had 23 years in.” Vice and his wife, Amy (also a teacher), had two girls, Madison and Morgan (later a member of the LCC cross country team), who were 7 and 5 respectively, and the notion of more family time was tugging.

In a serendipitous bit of timing, freshman Katy Andrews, whose family had moved into the district from Walnut, turned up unannounced at tryouts wearing braces and a red Angels baseball hat. ”After the first couple of days, I thought ‘this kid is extremely talented and a special person’ ” said Vice. “I felt like I had to commit to stay through her time in the program.”

Andrews impact was immediate. She captured the 2005 and 2006 CIF D-I individual titles and an increasingly deep-rostered LCC girls crew took runner-up team honors in both 2005 and 2007. In 2005, the Mav girls defeated powerhouse rival Torrey Pines for the first time and Andrews was the silver medalist at the State Meet. The era marked the start of another trend.

“It was extremely gratifying and, you know what, those kinds of kids just seemed to keep showing up,” Vice said. The arrival of Darren Fahy in 2008 helped push the boys team into the same rarefied sphere as the girls and sparked more than a decade of combined excellence for Vice’s unit.

Fast-forwarding to present day, at 59 years of age with 41 total years of coaching high school sports under his belt, Vice seems confident in his decision to switch gears at this point in life. “I’ve been planning to retire from teaching after next year and have always said I didn’t want to coach the final year I taught because it would be kind of like easing into it,” said Vice. “People say ‘you’ll know when it’s right’ and that’s how this feels.

“The last four years, I’ve had open heart surgery and saw our home destroyed by a devastating fire. Some people would call those signs. The house project is ongoing. Given where we are, if I coached past this fall, I’d have to miss significant time with the teams to take care of details associated with that which wouldn’t really be fair to the kids. I feel very at peace with the decision.

Unlike many others in the profession, Vice’s decision-making process has little to do with a changing of the times or inability to connect with a new generation of athletes. There seems little doubt his style would continue to generate positive outcomes if he chose to stay in place.

“Coach-athlete relationships haven’t really changed at their core, society has changed though,” smiled Vice. “We used to have to get kids to be quiet on the bus. Now, the bus drives are relatively silent because they’re all on their phones.

“The results we’ve had are nice but the relationships are what’s kept me going. I think if kids believe in you as a coach and believe in their teammates, they will compete for each other.”

A one-year basketball stint at SDA back in 1997-98 provided an interesting test of that philosophy. After transferring to LCC, Vice was approached to fill in as coach of the newly-reformed boys’ basketball team at SDA. Short on numbers and talent the team, as expected, struggled mightily.

“We went 0-19,” recalls Vice, “but the kids were still happy and working hard—I consider it one of my best coaching jobs.”

With coaching endeavors now on the backburner, how does Vice intend to fill the gap? “The family and house will be major areas of focus,” he said. “Coaching is a serious commitment and you give up a lot of time. People don’t realize that cross country and track & field are really year-round.

“My family has given up a lot so that I could work with my other kids, my wife especially. She came from a family that like sports and knew how important it was to me. Without her support, I couldn’t have done any of this.”

There will definitely be more time to do other things he enjoys that have regularly been pushed aside due to his jam-packed schedule. “I’ve already kind of picked up golf again and own a sailboat that’s been sitting alone a lot,” said Vice. “I’ll also be able to run more for myself now and I’ve been the lead singer in a local musical group, the Dollar Bill Band, so in a sense, I’ll still be part of a team too.”

He’s also made it clear he’ll be around and available for the transition at LCC—to offer advice or no advice, as needed. It’s an offer others see as a no-brainer for his successor.

“You look at his program and you can see that his kids genuinely like each other,” said CCA’s Corman. “It’s a good, positive environment, something that I’ve tried to emulate over the years.

‘Coaching is not about one thing or another that you do, it’s about getting kids to believe in themselves and getting them to work towards a goal. I’ve tapped into his experience often over the years. I see how he motivates me and I don’t have to guess how successful he is at doing that for his athletes.”

Kari DiGiulio, Vice’s athletic director at La Costa Canyon for the past 10 years, knows she’s losing somebody exceptional. “I’ve been honored to have had the privilege to work alongside Bill throughout my tenure as athletic director,” said DiGiulio. “I love his perspective, his calm, cool, collected demeanor and his ability to relate to his athletes.

“He has coached such outstanding individual talent yet always made sure the cross country environment was about the whole team. His leadership style is admirable. He makes those around him better and that is all you can ask of a high school coach and human being. He has been exemplary.”