Oregon St. lost one of the longest-tenured Beavers ever Saturday, when Paul Valenti passes away due to natural causes. Mr. Valenti was 94.
Valenti, who was from Mill Valley, CA, arrived in Corvallis in 1938, a recruiting victory for Slats Gill over Oregon, who also wanted the decorated Tamalpais High School star.
Except for 3 years of service in the US Navy during World War II in the Pacific theater, Valenti never lived anywhere else again.
Most who have visited Gill Coliseum over the last number of years have seen the rather grainy period picture of Valenti in the entrance, along with other noted basketball stars, and many have noted the white haired gentleman usually seen sitting behind the Beaver bench, not directly behind, but several rows back, and all the way at the end of the row, where he could keep a close eye on the team, always there and supportive, but without his presence being an overbearing distraction.
Valenti played on the undefeated 38-39 "Rook" team, when freshmen were not allowed to play on a varsity team regardless of capability, and then helped lead the Beavers to the 1940 and 1942 Northern Division championships.
After World War II ended, Valenti returned to OSC to finish his degree, and to coach freshman baseball in the spring, and assist Gill with the basketball team in the winter.
He was an assistant coach to Slats for 18 years, helping Gill to take 2 teams to the Final Four, until being promoted to head coach for the 1964-65 season, when Gill moved up to athletic director.
It's often said that the toughest job in sports is being the coach that follows a legend, and being the guy before a legend (Ralph Miller got the job when it came open after Valenti retired from coaching in 1970) is also a way to quickly become an after-thought, but Valenti did a pretty good job.
Valenti went 91-82 in his 6 years, and has the distinction of being the only coach to interrupt UCLA's 18 year run of conference titles during the era of John Wooden and his remaining staff and players after "The Wizard" retired.
Between the AAWU, which preceded the Pac-8, and then the Pac, the "Big Bad Bruins" won the conference title, playing in the same league as the Beavers, every year during that stretch except the 1966 season.
The Beavers were 12-2 in conference, and went 21-7 overall, and stunned superstar Elvin Hayes and Houston 63-60 in the first round of the NCAA tournament, before losing 70-64 to Utah in the West Region finals.
Valenti was named the West Coast Coach of the Year by the United Press International for the accomplishment.
After retiring as basketball coach, Valenti also directed the Tennis team for 4 years until the sport was dropped during the dark days of te 70's when mis-management of the football program was turning into a revenue black hole that caused the dis-banding of several programs, as well as the long, dark era of losing football.
Valenti also directed the summer jobs program for a number of years, and was active in fund raising and other administrative roles, as well as being a life-time ambassador.
"Paul was a loving husband, father, grandfather, veteran, part of the Greatest Generation, student, coach, pioneer, friend, and mentor," Oregon State Director of Athletics Bob De Carolis said. "Paul was Oregon State and everything that it stands for. We are so fortunate to have had him in our lives and our thoughts are with Fran, his loving wife for almost 70 years, and his family today."
"Corvallis has been a great place to raise a family, and Oregon State University is a great place to work," Valenti recently said. "It gave me an opportunity that I could have had at other places, but I chose this place and that was the best choice I ever made."
BuildingTheDam.com extends our thoughts and condolences to Fran, his wife for 68 years, his 2 daughters, Jo Ann and Victoria, and the entire Valenti family.
A Celebration of Life will be held at 1 PM on Saturday, Oct. 18 at Gill Coliseum. (This is 2 days after the Thursday game against Utah, a weekend when the team will be off.)
People with memories and stories about Paul Valenti, or that want to express their thoughts, are encouraged to email their to firstname.lastname@example.org.