Tom Zunino Stadium - Home of the Bulldogs
When he began his coaching career at Vacaville High School as a 23 year-old in 1960, Tom Zunino had
no idea it would span four decades and include a legacy of success unmatched in these parts.
Just a few years earlier, Zunino was a quarterback at Vallejo High School, leading a team many
consider - to this day - to be the best in California prep history. The team included running back
Dick Bass and wide receiver Bob Coronado, both of whom would go on to brilliant professional
careers, Bass with the Rams and Coronado with the Bears. With Zunino calling signals, the
Apaches recorded a 9-0 record in 1954, out scoring their opponents by combined score of
188-57. "The starters sat out the second half of the most games, and the first-team defense
wasn't scored on all year," Zunino recalls.
After graduating from Vallejo High School in 1955, Zunino took his talents as a quarterback
and shortstop/third baseman to Vallejo Junior College [now Solano Community College], then
to Sacramento State College, where he is a member of the schools Football Hall of Fame.
After a stint in the Air Force, he signed on as an assistant football coach at Vacaville in 1960.
"I was looking to play pro ball and go into family business during the off season," said the
man who has come to be known affectionately as Coach 'Z'. A year later, he turned down
offers of professional contracts from the Oakland Raiders and Boston Red Sox when he was
offered the dual jobs of athletic director and head football coach for the Bulldogs.
During the first year as head coach, he was recalled by the Air Force during the Cuban Missile
Crisis and had to report to Hamilton Air Force Base each day, then return to lead the team at
practice. The top dog finished 1-8 that season.
Since then, Zunino has built a program after which others model themselves. Completing his
37th year as head coach, he had amassed a 215-129-12 record, with nine league championship
along the way. In 1973, the Bulldogs won the Capital City Football Championship, the precursor
to today's Section Playoffs, in which Vacaville is a regular qualifier. In addition to football, Z
also coached wrestling, basketball, baseball, track and golf when the need arose.
Of all the players, games, seasons, and special moments over the years, Zunino draws the
most satisfaction from the school's dominance of the Monticello Empire League. Since 1976,
when the league was formed, the Bulldogs have won the coveted School of the Year Award
[a points system based on teams - both boys and girls - league records each year] 14 times,
including 10 years in a row form '82-'91. "The School of the Year Award shows a total
commitment of the players, coaches and administration," he said. "It's definitely a team effort,
and to dominate it like we have shows that we've got a pretty good thing going here"
"The excitement is the motivation factor. After each game we huddle as a team in the middle
of the field. When I look and see the players, the coaches, the fans, the townspeople, the
parents… There's a real family feeling around here. We're a team."
There had been rumors of Zunino's retirement for years, but the 61- year old legend went out
on his own terms. "I took each year one at a time," he said. " When the stumbling blocks
became too tiresome to jump, it was time to leave. The stumbling blocks have nothing at all
to do with football. They're with maintenance, equipment, finances, school restrictions and
administrative inconsistencies. Football is fun. That stuff isn't."
Asked about his legacy, Zunino hesitated, scratched his head and pondered the question. "I
really feel I will be forgotten in a very short time." He said. "If anybody tells you any different,
they're fooling themselves. I'm one of nine coaches across the state who have won 200 games
at one school. Can anybody name any of the other eight? Nobody can."
He realizes, however, that his years at Vacaville High School have been productive ones.
"I hope I've been able to move and motivate the people I've worked with, the coaches, the
players, and hope we're all better people for the experiences we've shared. I've had great
rapport with a lot of people over the years. There's a lot of memories that will live with me
Tom was voted Sac-Joaquin Section Athletic Director of the year 1985-97, State Athletic
Director's Association AD of the year, 1988, California Coaches AD of the year, 1989. He has
been Sac-Joaquin Section Football Chairman and State AD Association Vice President
and Exhibit Chairman. He worked for Solano County Office of Education 1967-70 as Special
Education Coordinator for Physical Education. He was on the State Committee for P.E
Coordination and regional conference coordinator for Special Education. Tom is one of sixteen
coaches in California High School history to win over 200 football games. He is one of only 9
to win over 200 at the same school and he is still married to the same wife!!
Tom and his wife Bernie have been married since 1960. Their son Mark graduated from
Pepperdine University and is in the fashion industry in Beverly Hills, working with Nolan Miller.
His daughter Karen and son-in-law Mike Papadopoulos, both teach at Vacaville High. They have
a one- year old daughter, Jessica. (***At the time of the dedication ceremony Mike and Karen
had one child. They now have a second daughter Nicole who is 4 years younger than Jessica.)
After retirement Tom will be spending time with his family, playing golf, & spending lots of
time with Jessica.
IN IT FOR THE LONG RUN: from tom zunino stadium dedication
Tom Zunino Stadium
dedication - 2004