The late Rick Rasnick had a genuine love for college football

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By: Ana Kieu

It’s obvious that not all of you are going to recall the late Rick Rasnick (1959-2019), but he was more than just a former San Jose State Spartan football starter, team captain and assistant coach. Unlike most other newcomers, Rasnick spent two years at El Camino College as the team’s Most Valuable Offensive Lineman and then weighed offers from San Jose State and Fresno State to continue his college football career. He chose SJSU because he wanted to be on the biggest possible college football stage.

Rasnick placed his stamps of focus, determination, skill, athleticism and knowledge of the game on a stage that resulted in 12 football seasons, most of which were successful, at SJSU, followed by four seasons at the University of Utah (1991-94) and five seasons as the Eastern Michigan University football head coach (1995-99).

Rasnick used all of those traits along with a trove of sports-related experiences in a five-plus year battle against Alzheimer’s disease. The tough battle ended on February 13, 2019 when Rasnick succumbed peacefully at age 59 surrounded by loved ones. It happened a little over a week ago, but it’s still hard to believe that he’s already gone.

Rasnick was born in Las Vegas and raised in Southern California. Rasnick ran the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds, which was a very fast time for an offensive lineman in his era. There was some question about his size, especially his listed playing weight, and whether he could deal with the constant contact of defensive players 20-50 pounds heavier than him, but that eventually subsided.

“‘Ras’ was one-of-a-kind, 215-pounds soaking wet,” recalled offensive tackle Max Hooper, Mr. Rasnick’s Spartan teammate in 1979 and 1980 and a team captain in 1981.

Rasnick was listed at 225 pounds on the Spartans roster for his two seasons. Hooper also recounted one story involving weigh-ins when he tried to help Rasnick weigh more than he actually did. The scheme didn’t quite work, but a lot of things did as a starting center in the offensive line, team captain in 1980, undergraduate assistant, graduate assistant, offensive line coach, offensive coordinator and interim head coach during the 1990 spring prior to the appointment of Terry Shea as a head coach.

Rasnick played for San Jose State Sports Hall of Fame coach Jack Elway and coached with SJSU Sports Hall of Famer Claude Gilbert and Shea. His first game as a SJSU player was a 48-48 tie with Utah State in Spartan Stadium, then the highest scoring tie in NCAA Division I-A history. The Spartans had winning seasons in 1979 and 1980 and knocked off No. 10 Baylor, 30-22, in Waco, Texas on November 1, 1980, after trailing 15-0 in the second quarter.

“He told me Mike Singletary (Baylor’s middle linebacker and Pro Football Hall of Fame member) was the best player he’s ever seen on a football field and about the joy they going to Baylor (as a 28-point underdog) and beating them… I think he was joking around, ‘He was so good, I never really touched him during the game because he was so fast and so good.’ He would look up and see Mike Singletary six feet in front of him — the best player he’s ever faced and trying to chase him down the whole game was kind of comical. That was one of his biggest thrills — beating Baylor,” said younger brother Ryan Rasnick, a starting free safety for the Spartans from 1986-89.

Rasnick defeated both Cal and Stanford in the same season twice in 1981 and 1987. The “mythical Bay Area championship” eluded the Spartans until then.

During his SJSU days, Rasnick experienced beating Stanford 6-of-12 times; Cal on four occasions; going 2-2 with Oregon and 2-0 at Washington State. The Spartans lost a pair of seven-point games at Arizona State and lost two nail-biters at Washington by three (20-17 in 1990) and four (35-31) in 1988.

Rasnick won four conference championships and playing in four bowl games between 1981 and 1990.

Rasnick got promoted to the offensive coordinator position in 1987. At age 27, he was the youngest offensive coordinator in NCAA Division I-A football. In four seasons, the Spartans averaged 31 points a game, were never shutout, led the nation in passing offense in 1987, was in the top-15 in passing offense each year and averaged at least 400 yards of total offense a game each season.

“Coach Rasnick always made sure that we were 100% prepared to be successful. He made sure we knew what was likely coming at us, and what to do about it.  As a player, that builds great confidence and that’s the only thing you can ask from your coach, really,” said 1987 First-Team All-Conference offensive guard Jim Carter, who originally came to the SJSU football program as a tight end prospect.

“Putting your players in the best position to be successful, and then let them play. That’s what he did.  He was the best tactical coach I ever had.”

“He enjoyed the game, enjoyed watching game film, enjoyed being prepared and preparing his players. …Our guards were 235 (pounds). You play Stanford. Those guys were 275, 280, 290 years ago. Back in the day, he would take middle linebackers and if you weren’t starting, ‘You want to come over and play guard for me.’  We had pulling guards at 235 pounds that could run. That was an advantage we did have,” said the younger Rasnick about his older brother’s approach to coaching.

Rasnick was appointed SJSU’s interim head football coach in the spring of 1990 during a time of considerable consternation surrounding the program. His steadying hand was instrumental in laying the groundwork for a 9-2-1 record, conference championship, California Raisin Bowl victory and a final national ranking of 20th in the United Press International coaches poll. The Sporting News, the nationally-known weekly publication based out of St. Louis, named him the Big West Conference’s top offensive assistant coach for the 1990 season.

Rasnick shifted his priorities to the University of Utah in 1991 as the Utes assistant head coach for offense, working alongside Spartan alum Ron McBride.

“Rick’s talent as a coach extends far beyond his years. I’ve watched him coach and recruit. He is an excellent teacher of the game of football. He understands our offense, inside and out,” said McBride at the time he hired Mr. Rasnick.

The Utes would go on to play in three bowl games in his four seasons and be voted eighth in the final 1994 USA Today/CNN coaches poll and 10th the final Associated Press writers poll.

Rasnick’s coaching success led to his appointment as the head coach at Eastern Michigan University in 1995, just months before his 35th birthday. In his first season, EMU posted a 6-5 win-loss record, the school’s only winning season between 1989 and 2016. Though his head coaching record at the Mid-American Conference school was 20-34 over five seasons, he remained as EMU’s sixth winningest head football coach among the 41 to serve the school in that position.

Rasnick’s final years were spent often at the Beach Cities Health District Center for Health & Fitness in Redondo Beach, Calif., following the unfortunate diagnosis. In 2018, Rasnick was honored with the organization’s “Spirit of Wellness” Award” for the year.

Mr. Rasnick is survived by his parents, Jim and Donna Rasnick; brother, Ryan Rasnick; sister, Kendahl Rasnick; sons, Blair and Pierce Rasnick; and companion, Annette Adams.

A celebration of life has been set for Saturday, March 16, 2019 from 2-5 p.m., at the Rice Mortuary, 5310 Torrance Blvd., Torrance, Calif., 90503.

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