Those who knew Fred Tesone’s obsession with winning football games realized the importance of his success at Cherry Creek High School. In 27 years as the Bruins’ head coach, Tesone was in a good mood and pleasant to be around 272 times. He was in a bad mood and not so nice to be around 49 times and somewhere in between twice, as a result of ties.
“There’s nothing worse than losing,” Tesone said. “When you lose, you die a little. I would always get down when we lost, but I’d always bounce back.”
By always bouncing back, Tesone compiled a coaching record that could stand up anywhere. When he retired after the 1989 season, his winning percentage ranked third among longtime active coaches in the nation. His 272-49-2 Cherry Creek ledger reflects 22 league titles, 23 state playoff berths and state championships in 1982, 1983 and 1986. He also was the National High School Coaches Association’s District 6 Coach of the Year in 1979, 1984 and 1989.
One of the state’s most impressive coaching performances almost was an after-thought, though. After graduating in 1955 from the University of Denver, where he helped lead the Pioneers to the 1954 Skyline League football championship, Tesone entered the stocks and bonds business. But two years later, influenced by two former DU associates, he changed direction.
“(Teammate) Dave Skene convinced me to become his assistant coach at Cherry Creek and (Coach) Bob Blackman always said that I should go into coaching,” Tesone explained. He joined Skene in 1957 and became the head coach in 1962 when Skene moved to Golden High School.
Tesone was a stickler for detail and his teams showed it with flawless execution most of the time. “I had great assistant coaches,” Tesone said. “I was an organizer, a motivator and a designator. I never got in the trenches with the players. But I always considered high school sports as the purest form of athletics, and I approached the game that way.”
A student of the game. Tesone kept abreast of the latest trends by following the University of Nebraska program under coach Tom Osborne and looking to successful Lakewood High School coach Tom Hancock for ideas to add to the Cherry Creek program.
But maybe his biggest mentor was his wife, Lois. The two were high school sweethearts at Louisville High School. “I consider her to be the world’s best living cheerleader,” said Tesone, whose family includes six children and 13 grandchildren. If anyone hated to lose more than Tesone, it was Lois, and the Cherry Creek coach learned that the hard way after a State Championship game against Thomas Jefferson.
“We’re in the last two minutes and we have cut the deficit to 20-19,” Tesone recalled. “I can hear my wife hollering, ‘go for two’. We’re thinking a tie for the state title would be something, but I know she’s thinking if I don’t go for two, she’ll kill me.” Tesone went for two and didn’t make it. His next “issue” was not giving the ball to son John, opting for a play action pass instead.
As always, Lois picked up Fred outside the Cherry Creek locker room with the family car. “I heard all about the fact that I didn’t give her son John the chance to carry the ball,” Tesone related. “We only lived a half-mile from the school, but that was the longest ride of my life!”
In retirement, Tesone has moved to a home near his roots in Louisville. He has many memories of a great coaching career but credits others, too. “When you win a lot, you have a lot of supportive people,” he said. “We had great parents at Cherry Creek. You have to work at winning, but when you have good people with you, it’s easier.”
When I was coaching, I was obsessed. I didn’t allow much of anything else but football into my life.