John Ralston (American football)

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For other people of the same name, see John Ralston.
John Ralston
Sport(s) Football
Biographical details
Born (1927-04-26) April 26, 1927 (age 87)
Oakland, California
Playing career
1948–1950 California
Position(s) Linebacker
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
San Lorenzo HS (CA)
California (assistant)
Utah State
Denver Broncos
Oakland Invaders
San Jose State
Head coaching record
Overall 97–81–4 (college)
34–33–3 (NFL)
9–12 (USFL)
Bowls 2–2
Accomplishments and honors
2 Skyline (1960–1961)
2 AAWU/Pac-8 (1970–1971)
College Football Hall of Fame
Inducted in 1992 (profile)

John R. Ralston (born April 26, 1927) is a former American football player, coach, and sports executive. He served as the head football coach at Utah State University (1959–1962), Stanford University (1963–1971), and San Jose State University (1993–1996), compiling a career college football record of 97–81–4. Ralston also coached the Denver Broncos of the National Football League (NFL) from 1972 to 1976, amassing a record of 34–33–3, and the Oakland Invaders of the United States Football League (USFL) in 1983 and part of the 1984 season, tallying a mark of 9–12. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1992.

Early life, education, and playing career[edit]

Born in Oakland, California, Ralston and his family moved to Norway, Michigan when he was eight years old.[1] Upon graduating from Norway High School in 1944, he went to the University of California, Berkeley and played linebacker there on two Rose Bowl teams before earning his physical education degree in 1951.

Coaching career[edit]

Ralston began his coaching career in 1953 at San Lorenzo High School in San Lorenzo, California, just south of Oakland. He then spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Cal from 1956–1958.

Ralston was then named head coach at Utah State University in 1959. In four years there, he compiled a 31–11–1 record and won Skyline Conference championships.

Ralston turned down the head coaching job at Nebraska in 1962 before he moved to Stanford University in 1963 and helped revive a sagging program. Over nine seasons, Ralston guided the team back to national respectability while building a mark of 55–36–3. In his last two seasons, 1970–1971, Ralston's teams won two Pacific-8 titles and notched back-to-back Rose Bowl victories over Ohio State and Michigan, both of whom were undefeated coming into the Rose Bowl game. Under Ralston's tutelage, Stanford quarterback Jim Plunkett won the Heisman Trophy in 1970.

In 1972, Ralston departed the San Francisco Bay Area once again, this time for the Rocky Mountains and the Denver Broncos. The Broncos continue to struggle under Ralston finishing with a 5–9 record in 1972. In 1973, a year which included the "Orange Monday" game played in front of a prime-time national television audience in which the Broncos came from behind to earn a tie on Jim Turner's 35-yard field goal, Ralston coached the team into first place with a 6–3–2 record. With their first winning season in franchise history under their belt and with the AFC West title on the line, the Broncos season ended with a 21–17 loss to the Oakland Raiders. Ralston was the UPI's choice as AFC Coach of the Year after Denver achieved its first-ever winning season at 7–5–2.

In 1974, Ralston coached the Broncos to a 7–6–1 record for their second consecutive winning season. The 1975 season was one of mediocre play for the Broncos as the team finished with a disappointing 6–8 record, but the following year the team improved and finished with a 9–5 record. However, the record was not good enough qualify the Broncos for the playoffs. Despite the strong showing, Broncos players issued a protest vote of no confidence in their coach and Ralston resigned following the season. In five seasons with the Broncos, Ralston guided the team to winning seasons three times and an overall record of 34–33–3.

After leaving the Broncos, Ralston held several assistant coaching jobs which included the Philadelphia Eagles, the San Francisco 49ers, the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, and as a head coach in the USFL with the Oakland Invaders.

Ralston also coached in Europe. He was the head coach of the Dutch Lions, the national football team of the Netherlands. With the Lions, Ralston won the bronze medal in the European Championships in Helsinki, Finland in 1991.

Head coaching record[edit]


Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs Coaches# AP°
Utah State Aggies (Skyline Conference) (1959–1961)
1959 Utah State 5–6 2–5 T–5th
1960 Utah State 9–2 6–1 T–1st L Sun
1961 Utah State 9–1–1 5–0–1 T–1st L Gotham 10 10
Utah State Aggies (Independent) (1962)
1962 Utah State 8–2
Utah State: 31–11–1 13–6–1
Stanford Indians (Athletic Association of Western Universities) (1963–1967)
1963 Stanford 3–7 1–4 6th
1964 Stanford 5–5 3–4 5th
1965 Stanford 6–3–1 2–3 T–5th
1966 Stanford 5–5 1–4 8th
1967 Stanford 5–5 3–4 T–4th
Stanford Indians (Pacific-8 Conference) (1968–1971)
1968 Stanford 6–3–1 3–3–1 T–3rd 20
1969 Stanford 7–2–1 5–1–1 T–2nd 14 19
1970 Stanford 9–3 6–1 1st W Rose 10 8
1971 Stanford 9–3 6–1 1st W Rose 16 10
Stanford: 55–36–3 30–25–2
San Jose State Spartans (Big West Conference) (1993–1995)
1993 San Jose State 2–9 2–4 T–6th
1994 San Jose State 3–8 3–3 T–5th
1995 San Jose State 3–8 3–4 T–6th
San Jose State Spartans (Western Athletic Conference) (1996)
1996 San Jose State 3–9 3–5 T–5th (Pacific)
San Jose State: 11–34 11–26
Total: 97–81–4
      National championship         Conference title         Conference division title
#Rankings from final Coaches Poll.
°Rankings from final AP Poll.


  1. ^ "Hometown Honors John Ralston". San Jose State University Athletics/Iron Mountain Daily News. 2008-07-30.