BERKELEY - Ray Willsey, a member of Cal’s 1951 and ’52 teams who came back to coach at his alma mater for eight seasons, passed away Monday at the age of 85.
Willsey served as head coach for the Bears from 1964-71, compiling a record of 40-42-1, including a 7-3-1 record in 1968 for a team that came to be known for its “Bear Minimum” defense. When he took over the reins of the program, Willsey became the first Cal alum in 38 years to be named head coach at Cal. During his years in Berkeley, he posted six seasons with at least a .500 winning percentage, and his 1970 squad finished tied for second in the Pac-8.
Willsey also played quarterback and defensive back for the Golden Bears under legendary head coach Pappy Waldorf in 1951 and ’52. He led the Bears to a 26-0 victory over Stanford in his senior season, throwing a 62-yard touchdown pass and later scoring a rushing touchdown in the Big Game. In addition to his success at quarterback, Waldorf considered Willsey to be his “defensive brain on the field.”
After graduating from Cal, Willsey played three seasons in the Canadian Football League for the Edmonton Eskimos. A native of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, he was an All-Pro all three years. After an elbow injury marked the end of his playing career, Willsey returned to the United States where he got his first coaching job as an assistant under Darrell Royal, both Washington and Texas. He served as a co-head coach for two games for the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals in 1961 – both victories – before later taking the head coaching position at Cal.
Among those who played for Willsey at Cal were eventual Cal Hall of Famers Craig Morton, Ed White and Sherman White.
"Coach Willsey, thanks for sharing your life with me and my buddies," Ed White said. "You allowed us to be who we were, but taught us to be proud Bears and tough, upright citizens. I appreciate you teaching us the right way to live life. You were an inspiration in my life and I will be forever grateful. You are always in my mind."
The 1968 Bear Minimum team set several school records that still stand more than 40 years later, including fewest rushing touchdowns (5) and fewest yards per play (3.60). Cal also shut out three opponents – Colorado, San Jose State and No. 10 Syracuse – and held eight of 11 opponents to 12 or fewer points.
Following his time in Berkeley, Willsey returned to the NFL and was an assistant coach for the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders from 1978-84. Willsey later moved on to the World Football League, coaching the London Monarchs in 1992 and serving as an assistant for the Scottish Claymores in 1996.
In 2002, Willsey was honored by Cal with the Glenn T. Seaborg Award, given to a former Cal football player for his career accomplishments. He was also inducted into the Orange County Sports Hall of Fame in 1993.
A memorial service is being planned for Berkeley with a date still to be announced.