Legends Remembered

Fresno State community mourns loss of three of its winningest coaches

By Eddie Hughes

The Fresno State community lost three men — each the all-time winningest coach in school history in his respective sport — within the span of four months.

Bob Bennett, who racked up 1,302 wins in his 34 years coaching Fresno State baseball, passed away June 14. He was 86 years old.

Boyd Grant, who went 194-74 in nine seasons as men’s basketball coach, passed away Aug. 17. He was 87.

Bob Spencer, who guided the women’s basketball program to a 198-147 record in his 12 years as coach, passed away on Aug. 30. He was 87.

In the following pages, Fresno State Magazine takes a look back at their biggest sporting accomplishments, their impact on the campus and in the community and shares remarks from some of the student-athletes they influenced.


Baseball Coach



Fresno State coaching tenure: 1967, 1970-2002

All-time record: 1,302-759-4

Born: June 22, 1933 in Atwood, Oklahoma

High school: Roosevelt High-Fresno (1951)

Alma mater: Fresno State (1952-55)



– Led Bulldogs to 17 conference championships, 21 NCAA Tournament appearances and two College World Series (1988, ’91).

– 26 consecutive winning seasons (1977-2002).

– Coached 32 All-Americans and nine first-round Major League Baseball draft picks at Fresno State, including Ben Fritz, Jeff Weaver, Steve Soderstrom, Bobby Jones, Steve Hosey, Eddie Zosky, Tom Goodwin, Eric Fox and John Hoover. Also coached former MLB standouts Terry Pendleton, Mark Gardner, Dan Gladden and Dick Ruthven.

– Named conference coach of the year 14 times in five different conferences.

– His 1988 team won a program-record 56 games and went on a record 32-game winning streak, earning a No. 1 national ranking during the regular season.

– Named National Coach of the Year by The Sporting News in 1988.

– Pete Beiden Field at Bob Bennett Stadium was dedicated in his name in 2016.

– Became seventh coach in NCAA history to reach 1,300 wins in 2002.

– Inducted into College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010, the American Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Bulldog Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991.

– Played catcher for the Bulldogs as a student-athlete from 1952-55, under legendary coach Pete Beiden, earning all-conference honors twice.

– Published several books on poetry and baseball.


They said it:

“Bob was not only a great coach, he was a great man in the truest sense of the word. He really cared about his athletes. He cared about their character.”

Jack Hannah, Fresno State (1953-55)
(via CBS47/KSEE24)

“What Coach was to the school, the program, what he meant to us former players and alumni, boosters, Dugout Club, that stadium wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for him and all that he stood for.”

Josh Labandeira, Fresno State (2000-01)
(via The Fresno Bee)

“I’m honored to have had him as a friend and also as my coach. He’s going to be missed, not forgotten, I know that. He’s just a great man. He lived life the right way.”

Eddie Zosky, Fresno State (1987-89)
(via The Fresno Bee)

“He expected the most out of his players, and he wanted to teach every one of his players, including me, how to be a man. Being in his program was learning about life and learning how to be a good citizen in our community, a good father, a good husband, and just all the things that went along with it.”

Tim Thiessen, Fresno State (1980-82)
(via The Fresno Bee)

“Coach Bennett’s impact on our lives is immeasureable. He taught us: discipline, competitiveness, drive, determination, dignity, humbleness, loyalty, perseverance, accountability, respectfulness and selflessness. So in other words, he taught us how to be men. His impact on this community and the sport of college baseball will always have his fingerprints on it. He was a pioneer and a visionary that was 25 years ahead of his time.”

Steve Pearse, Fresno State (1987-88)
(Twitter statement)


Men’s Basketball Coach



Fresno State coaching tenure: 1977-86

All-time record: 194-74

Born: Aug. 17, 1933

High school: American Falls High-Idaho (1951)

Alma mater: Snow College/Colorado State



– Led Fresno State to 1983 NIT championship, a 69-60 win over DePaul at Madison Square Garden in New York, before being greeted by thousands of Red Wavers outside the airport when they returned to Fresno.

– Then 6,500-seat Selland Arena, with its raucous fan base that became known as the Red Wave, was nicknamed “Grant’s Tomb” during his tenure. The arena soon expanded to 10,000-plus seats.

– Coached Bulldogs to their first three NCAA Tournament appareances.

– His team was ranked as high as No. 11 nationally in 1981-82 with a 27-3 record and a Sweet 16 appearance, beating West Virginia 50-46 before losing to Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown 58-40.

– Coached seven of the Bulldogs’ 22 all-time NBA Draft picks, including first round pick Bernard Thompson, second round picks Rod Higgins and Ron Anderson and Pete Verhoeven (fourth round), Donald Mason (fifth), Desi Barmore (seventh) and Mitch Arnold (ninth).

– Guided the Bulldogs to three regular season Pacific Coast Athletic Association conference championships and three conference tournament titles.

– Earned PCAA Coach of the Year honors three times (1978, ’81 and’82).

– Inducted into Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame in 1993.

– Fresno State led the nation in scoring defense during Grant’s first year, and was ranked in the top 10 in each of his nine seasons.

– Prior to taking the Fresno State job, Grant was an assistant at Kentucky (1972-74) and head coach at College of Southern Idaho (1974-77), where he won a junior college national championship.


They said it:

“My dad had such a deep connection with the people of Fresno because of what this community embodies — honesty, hard work and the ability to succeed from an underdog role. His teams demonstrated the mindset of our community by focusing on defense.”

Kevin Grant, Coach Grant’s son

“He was a no-nonsense guy. He believed in practice and practice makes perfect, and we did it until we got it right.”

Art Williams, Fresno State (1977-80)
(via ABC30’s Bulldog Breakdown)

“That’s the thing about Coach Grant, being the ultimate winner, you have to fall in line or you’re going to fall out of line, and that’s how he coached. I had to be fundamental just to get to my goal, which was to get to the league, get to the NBA. … To this day, the fundamentals on the defensive end still stick with my philosophies, my mindset. You think about what Coach Grant, Coach Adams and Coach Thrash were teaching us, particularly on the defensive end, that stands the test of time.”

Rod Higgins, Fresno State (1978-82)
(via 940 ESPN Radio)

“Coach was a good man. He really was a good man. I’m biased, but the best coach in Fresno State history is Coach Grant. The brotherhood of the players that were there, that’s a special friendship, a special bond.”

Tyrone Bradley, Fresno State (1979-83)
(via The Fresno Bee)


Women’s Basketball Coach



Fresno State coaching tenure: 1981-93

All-time record: 198-147

Born: Sept. 10, 1932 in Albia, Iowa

High school: Albia High-Iowa (1951)

Alma mater: Parsons College



– Twice led the Bulldogs to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (1986, ’90).

– Guided the Bulldogs to four seasons of 20 or more wins.

– His 1986-87 team, the program’s first to earn a top 25 national ranking, holds the school record for highest scoring average in a season (78.4 points per game).

– Four players from the 1986-87 team went on to earn All-America honors during their playing careers (Wendy Martell, Shannon McGee, Yvette Roberts and Simone Srubek).

– Spencer was named to the American Women’s Federation All-American Coaches list four times (1986, ’87, ’89, ’90).

– Coached at Fresno State the final 12 years of his 27-year coaching career.

– Previously coached at John F. Kennedy College, Parsons College and William Penn College.

– Became the first NCAA women’s basketball coach to earn 500 career wins and, when he retired, ranked second all-time nationally with 578 wins.


They said it:

“When I played at Fresno State, Coach Spencer introduced the words ‘intestinal fortitude’ into our vocabulary. He introduced a sense of courageousness, fearlessness and great heartedness that permeated our program. This spirit of tenacity marked our team and has marked my life. I am thankful for Coach Spencer and the lessons learned that have lasted a lifetime.”

Wendy Martell Taylor, Fresno State (1984-87)

“He dedicated himself to the team. He worked hard. He wanted to make sure the girls worked hard, and knew that basketball wasn’t the only thing that would make your life, you have to get the education also. He poured that into us, that you go to school, you have practice and you have classes and you have to get good grades.”

Yvette Roberts, Fresno State (1986-89)
(via CBS47/KSEE24)

“Besides my father, he was the most touching man that I had in my life. He would want to relax before games so he would say, ‘Chuck, I’m going back into the locker room. Don’t let anybody in. Come get me when we’ve got 10 minutes before we’re ready to go out. He just wanted his own time to focus and then when he’d come out he was a ball of fire.”

Chuck Bandelian,
Fresno State assistant under Spencer
(via ABC30’s Bulldog Breakdown)