Pete Adler became one of the state’s great football coaches when he built Durand into a power in the 1960s.
But he didn’t do it as a Vince Lombardi replica.
“He was not fire and brimstone,” said Tom Bauer, who quarterbacked four of his unbeaten teams. “He was tough but also easy going.”
From 1965-69, Durand ran up one of the state’s longest win streaks of 36 games that spanned more than four years and his teams ranked as the top small school in state polls.
Bauer, who later would become a record-setting four-year quarterback at UW-Eau Claire, said there was no secret to the success of Adler and the Panther teams.
“He was a terrific competitor,” Bauer said. “He believed in what he was doing, and he took care of everybody — managers and water boys — not just the athletes.”
Adler, who died Friday at the age of 82, was a quick-hitting halfback for Eau Claire Regis and UW- Eau Claire before launching his coaching career and gained knowledge from coaches Howard “Chick” Kolstad at Regis and Ade Olson with the Blugolds.
“He was big into the Wing-T,” Bauer said. “There was misdirection, play action and we ran some option.”
Gene Golden was a Regis classmate of Adler and a friend through the years. He would often be a member of the officiating crew for Durand games.
“He knew the game and would correct me if he thought I had missed call,” Golden said. “He’d chew me out, then he’d laugh. But he always wanted it fair.”
Bauer, who played some as a freshman and then ran the team for three years, becoming a two-time All-Northwest quarterback, remembers playing against Hudson and the great Jim Bertelsen as a junior. It was Durand's first year in the Middle Border Conference.
“They went ahead of us 7-0,” Bauer said. “It seemed like the next time I looked at the scoreboard we were up something like 40-7. But Bertelsen was fast and strong, a great athlete.”
While Bauer went to Eau Claire, Bertelsen, one of the nation’s most sought players, went on to a decorated four-year career at Texas and on to the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL for five successful years.
Adler was the type of coach who could get his team to handle players of that ability.
Bauer would direct the scheme. He worked with many outstanding teammates.
“All I had to do is hand the ball off to guys like Rick Walker and Dan Langlois; they were really fast,” he said. “Of course, I threw a few passes to Buzz Harmon, too.”
That turned out to be the most dangerous pass combination in the area.
Bauer said he couldn’t pinpoint one thing that made Adler a winning coach.
“He was strong is so many areas and a great role model,” Bauer said. “He also coached some freshmen basketball and it was fun.”
Adler graduated from Regis in 1954 and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame with the third class of inductees in 1992. Three years later, he was inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Hall of Fame.
It was a no-brainer. In the years 1960-89, he compiled a record of 165 wins, 90 losses and seven ties, won eight conference championships and took part in many state playoffs in his legendary career.
But the success he achieved on the football field and the decorations he received later never changed Adler. He took it all in stride, crediting his players.
He was also selected as head coach of the North All-Star team in the Shrine Bowl game in 1978, served in many WIAA athletic roles and was a respected basketball official, working both the boys and girls state tournaments.
“He was very popular, and the kids loved him,” Golden said. “He was knowledgeable and taught the kids the right way. He was just a great coach.”