Dennis Pugh, longtime baseball and football coach at Mission Bay High School in Pacific Beach, died May 15 at his home.
Pugh, who would have turned 74 in two weeks, was in his 31st season as baseball coach at Mission Bay, coming back in 2017 after a 10-year run as head baseball coach at Cal State San Marcos.
He also was Mission Bay’s head football coach for a decade and was the school’s athletic director before he left for Cal State San Marcos.
“We were honored to have him here,” said Jorge Palacios, athletic director at Mission Bay. “This really sucks. It’s so surprising.”
Pugh had a heart procedure in March, but Palacios said he “was feeling good, the best he has felt in a long time.
“As far as we know, Dennis passed from natural causes.”
Pugh was the third-winningest baseball coach in the CIF San Diego Section. His 671 wins rank behind Rancho Bernardo’s Sam Blalock (946) and Montgomery’s Manny Hermosillo (701).
Overall, counting high school baseball and football as well as college baseball, Pugh had more than 1,000 career victories.
Three of his baseball players — Joel Skinner, Kevin Reese and Matt Bush — reached the big leagues. Bush and Henry Sanchez were first-round draft picks.
Pugh had a long association with the annual Lions Tournament, one of the top baseball tournaments in the country.
He helped determine brackets and offered his field free of charge for semis and finals when he was at Cal State San Marcos, where he won 280 games in 10 years.
“Dennis was such a good guy, such a help,” said Judge Peter Gallagher, who runs the Lions Tournament. “Dennis was an institution.”
Pugh won 86 games in 13 seasons as head football coach at Mission Bay, winning two San Diego Section championships.
His most notable player was running back Arian Foster, who went on to play in the NFL for the Houston Texans, gaining 6,527 yards, playing in four Pro Bowls and making first-team All-Pro in 2010.
“The baseball world lost a legend,” said CIF San Diego Section Commissioner Jerry Schniepp, who went up against Pugh many times as baseball coach at Helix.
“Dennis was a legend. Beyond that, he was just a really good guy.”
Pugh often said the thing he was most proud of was that several of his former players went into the coaching ranks.
Those players include Rusty Filter, head baseball coach at Santa Clara University; Jeff Dufek, head coach at San Marcos High; San Marcos pitching coach Desi Herrera; Cal State San Marcos pitching coach Jared Suwyn and University of San Diego assistant baseball coach Brock Ungricht.
“I was super fortunate to have such a great mentor,” said Dufek, who played and then coached with Pugh. “This is like losing your dad, because he was a father to me.
“I called him all the time, bounced ideas off him, talked about how to deal with frustrations.
“I learned the game with him and through him. Everything I do as a coach is based on what I learned from him.
“He put his entire life into coaching his guys, and he most certainly shaped me. Talking to him was like getting the answers to the test.
“In my opinion, he’s the best baseball coach ever in San Diego. That’s why this is such a big loss for his family, players and friends. But also for the baseball community.”
Pugh is survived by his wife, Marilyn.