The legend of La Cañada High School varsity boys’ basketball coach Tom Hofman continues to grow after he guided the Spartans to an 82-55 Rio Hondo League victory over visiting South Pasadena on Friday, Jan. 19.
The win was No. 700 for Hofman, placing him among the 17 winningest coaches in California, according to Cal-Hi Sports. He is eighth on the list of active boys’ basketball coaches in the state.
“It’s a great honor to be [on the list],” said Hofman, whose record in 32 years as a head coach is 701-212 as of this week’s Outlook press deadline. “If you look at the coaches up there, they’re the best in California. To be in the same list as them is a great honor.”
“I’ve had great kids and it’s not just a job, it’s a lot of fun,” he added. “Every year, I look forward to the next year. You can see the kids tonight how hard they played to win the game for me. That’s what I get all the time — great kids and great effort. For me, it just shows again how lucky I am to be here at La Cañada and to have the opportunity to coach here.”
A near-capacity crowd packed the Hotchkin Family Gymnasium — also known as the “Sports Palace” — and celebrated Hofman’s achievement after the game.
State Sen. Anthony Portantino began the ceremony by presenting Hofman with a Governor’s Commendation and summed up Hofman’s career at La Cañada with a quote from legendary UCLA coach John Wooden: “Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”
After a stellar career at Pasadena High School under the guidance of coach George Terzian, Hofman suffered an injury at Chico State that ultimately ended his college playing career. That’s when he ventured into coaching, eventually ending up at his alma mater to work with the Bulldogs’ freshman squad in 1977 before moving on to Edison Junior High School in South Los Angeles.
“Tommy was a very hardworking player and wonderful for us at Pasadena High School,” said Terzian, who also formerly coached at Pasadena City College and has had as many as 11 former players coaching in the area. “We were league champions during his senior year. We were a fabulous team, and Tommy was a mainstay on that team. He went on to become a wonderful coach. I remember giving him a good recommendation.”
In 1984, Hofman applied for a teaching position as well as the head coaching job at LCHS. Jim Harvey, his longtime assistant and best friend, was a faculty member at the time and on the interview committee.
The school hired Hofman but opted to go with Bob Dueker as the varsity coach. Hofman accepted the teaching position and coached the junior varsity boys. He wound up taking over the varsity team in the 1986-87 season after Dueker went 20-26 in his two years at the helm. Hofman inherited a program that accumulated record of 247-295 in 23 years, a statistic that didn’t faze him.
He made an immediate impact, guiding the Spartans to a second-place finish in league and their first playoff appearance in five years as a rookie varsity coach. Hofman then directed the program to 11 consecutive Rio Hondo League championships, making him a local legend.
“He’s just amazing,” Harvey said. “It’s amazing how he can teach the game and how well coached his teams are. Of course, he was a great player himself and he has a competitive fire to him that keeps him going. What a blessing for the school. He’s done more for the district than anybody. He put La Cañada on the map, and he’s the greatest coach in the history of the school. It’s not even close.”
Hofman’s reputation continued to grow when he delivered the program’s first CIF Southern Section championship in 1992. Having established himself as one of the finest basketball coaches in Southern California, he guided an overachieving squad to a stunning championship-game upset over Los Angeles Price, 50-47, to bring home the school’s second CIF-SS crown in 2011.
“Most coaches in this area know coach Hofman and admire him for being a genuine, old-school basketball coach,” said San Marino High School coach Mihail Papadopulos, who is in his eighth season with the Titans. “You have to play really hard with great discipline and mental toughness to be able to compete against [Hofman’s] teams. He’s tough but a class act and has always been good to me. We both played for George Terzian, and I see lot of George in him. He’s always been about discipline and doing things the right way. He represents that, and it’s what I’m trying to do here in San Marino. I’m trying to be that kind of role model in San Marino for the boys and community.”
Former LCHS athletic director Randy Boal credited Hofman’s ability to earn the respect from athletes’ parents for success, as well as his coaching.
“When I was A.D., he was just great to work with,” Boal said. “He was always cooperative and willing to do extra. Many coaches don’t last because they don’t get the support from the parents. He gets that support.”
Hofman’s impact in the community was evident last Friday night, when numerous alumni and community members were present to witness the historic victory.
“It’s a testament of how much he is loved by everybody,” Dean of Athletics Kristina Kalb said. “We had alumni in the house from the past 32 years and parents of alumni. We all love Tom. We love what he creates with this team. To be able to have that success at a public school that relies upon homegrown kids on its roster and repeat that year after year is something you don’t see in the state.”
Hofman has guided La Cañada to 25 Rio Hondo League championships and two CIF-SS titles in 31 seasons. However, the achievement he and the school take most pride in is the fact that he’s accomplished every feat with local athletes.
“I think that’s the biggest thing,” Portantino said. “He wins with the kids who are here and has a great program that turns young boys into men.”
Hofman retired from teaching special education years ago but still arrives to La Cañada High School just after lunch to take time to talk to coaches and players.
“I think he loves making a difference with students, and you can see that,” said LCHS Principal Ian McFeat. “I don’t know if you saw that bench, but there’s about 20 kids there and several managers. He’s an inclusive guy, and he looks at every single player as individuals and supports them.
“He could have left and gone to a private school and made 10 times what he makes here,” McFeat added. “He makes hardly anything. It’s a stipend. When you see what he’s been able to do, connecting with kids and building a great program, it’s just remarkable. It’s all dedication and hard work. I come here during sixth period and there’s Tom, who is retired, coming here to meet with the guys and get them ready for practice.”
Hofman’s stipend total as varsity boys’ basketball coach is $3,126.08, and he continues to commute from his home in Santa Clarita to coach his Spartans.
“That’s who he is,” said Terzian, who compiled a record of 383-110, including a pair of CIF-SS titles, in 17 seasons at Pasadena High. “Once in a while, you have a guy who stays. He did a fabulous job the whole way and built more than wins and losses. That’s the best thing. He’s a family man with great kids. He’s everything you want in a young coach.”
Following his milestone victory, Hofman accepted the microphone Friday and told everyone why he continues to dedicate his time to La Cañada.
“There are four reasons I keep coaching,” he said. “One of them is that I have the greatest players. I love these guys and they keep me young. I’ve got great administrative support. I’ve had the best coaching staff in the past 30 years. And the No. 4 reason is the most important one, and I wish all of you, especially you younger people, are as lucky as I am in marriage because I have the greatest wife in the world.”
When asked about going for 800, the 65-year-old Hofman smiled but was coy with his answer.
“You never know,” he said. “Everybody thought I’d be gone after 500. All the local schools were telling everybody and my kids that I was leaving. I don’t see myself leaving too soon right now.”
Hofman then went to celebrate by having dinner with his wife, Cindy, and by thinking about the Spartans’ next game against Riverside Poly on Saturday.
“As fun as this is, it’s just another game,” Hofman said. “It’s a nice moment, but we have another one tomorrow morning.”
The Spartans defeated Riverside Poly 50-41 as Hofman notched his 701st victory … and the countdown to 800 began.