Published Sept. 26, 2022
“Coach” John Ables
August 16, 1938 – September 14, 2022
John Hamilton Ables, the man who most people knew simply as “Coach,” died peacefully at Westland House in Monterey on September 14, 2022, after a long battle with congestive heart failure, complicated by cancer. He was 84.
Coach was born on August 16, 1938, in Salinas as the fourth and final child of Otto Ables and Lena Mae Ables (née Hinkson). He had three older sisters: Wilma, Shirley, and Winona. He was raised by his mother, Lena, and stepfather, Porter. During his early life, he worked in the lettuce fields to help support his family.
He graduated from Salinas High School in 1956 and then went to Fresno State. He also took classes at San Jose State College.
On February 14, 1960, Coach married his high school sweetheart, Lynda Hansen. They had two sons, Scott and Chad, and lived in Carmel before they got divorced in 1966. He moved to Pebble Beach with his second wife, Michelle Machette. He later married again, and his wife, Missy, gave birth to his third son, Charles.
During his early working years in the 1960s, he was mentored by A.C. Bigham, the founder of the Cork N’ Bottle liquor store chain. Coach eventually became the general manager of five of those stores, including the landmark store in Carmel on Ocean Avenue near Dolores.
He was a gifted athlete and a passionate tennis player, and in the early 1970s landed an additional job as tennis instructor at the Beach and Tennis Club in Pebble Beach. It was there where he met celebrities and industry executives, often serving as a doubles partner for many of them.
His rugged good looks also led to modeling assignments, culminating in a series of print ads in 1973 and 1974 for the Chevrolet car company in which he became “The Camaro Man.”
His life in the 1960s and 1970s was the definition of “life in the fast lane,” and that life finally caught up with him. His lifestyle was not healthy; the liquor business declined rapidly after the end of the “fair trade” price protection; and his stores w
ent under, causing him to lose all his money.
His life reached a turning point when, on February 1, 1979, a friend helped him get an assistant coaching job at Robert Louis Stevenson School in Pebble Beach. Early one evening that winter, as he was walking to his car, a voice came out of the darkness and simply said, “Goodnight, Coach.” After years of working hard and playing even harder, but having never been held in high esteem, the respect from that student, conveyed in the word “Coach,” changed his life. He knew at that moment what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
During the next decade, he first coached track, basketball, and football at RLS and then later coached at Monterey High. He also coached youth sports. In addition to coaching, he managed the daily affairs of Doris Day’s estate.
However, even though he had already coached for a decade, John Ables became “Coach” when he arrived at Carmel High School in 1990 as an assistant coach for track and cross country. After also assisting for several years in both the football and basketball programs, in 1993 he became head coach for both track and cross country and began to amass one of the most impressive coaching records in Monterey County history.
He coached both the boys’ and girls’ teams, and during his tenure those teams won an astounding 58 league championships. At one point, the girls track team won 136 straight Thursday meets, 16 consecutive MTAL titles, and 105 straight dual meets. The boys’ and girls’ cross-country teams each won three Central Coast Section titles. The crowning achievement came in 2003 when the boys’ cross country team won the Division IV state championship.
When he arrived at Carmel High in 1990, there were only 20 athletes on the track team. Ten years later, that number had grown to 130 athletes in a school whose total enrollment was 800 students. This is all the more remarkable because it is often said of track and cross country, “My Sport Is Your Punishment.” This massive increase in enrollment for a punishing sport was due to Coach.
Influencing the lives of his athletes away from the track gave him even greater pleasure than winning. He helped those whose lives were troubled by problems at home, or who got in trouble from poor lifestyle choices. His background and upbringing made him uniquely qualified to offer this help. More than a few athletes spent nights at Coach’s apartment when there was no other place to go. He also gave what little money he had to athletes who could not afford shoes or other basic equipment.
Coach assembled a group of amazing, dedicated, and very loyal coaches, most of whom stayed with him during his entire 23-year Carmel High career. His athletes were even more loyal and devoted. However, his relationship with parents and school administrators was often stormy. He was “old school” in every respect. He was unbending. He taught teamwork to his athletes and gave them life lessons in what that word meant, but often failed to apply his own lessons to his dealings with parents and administrators. By the end of 2012, those failings caused the school to not renew his coaching contract for the following year. After he left, so did many of his coaches, and both the track and cross-country programs faltered for many years.
He is survived by his three sons—Scott, Chad, and Charles—and by hundreds of athletes whose lives he changed forever. A remembrance ceremony is being planned by former athletes for Saturday, November 26, at 11:00 a.m. at Ribera Beach. Further details will be circulated via email and social media in the coming weeks.
Coach was grateful for the loving care he received from the staff at Sunrise of Monterey and then The Cottages of Carmel.
Coach leaves a legacy that will never be forgotten by the young men and women who ran for him. Those athletes will remember his many lessons, often summed up with his favorite phrase: “Strength and Honor.” They will also understand this final line, something he created in order that everyone would get the same level of recognition for their achievements. So, in that spirit:
One clap for Coach Ables.