Fall 2009 Issue | By Frank Mercogliano
Italo I.J. "Babe" Caccia, the winningest coach in ISU's history in both football and baseball, passed away Aug. 28, in Pocatello of natural causes. Caccia, who was five weeks shy of his 92nd birthday, was one of the most well known and beloved figures in Idaho State history. Caccia passed away on the day the high school football season opened on the field that bears his name.
He had a long career and association with Idaho State, starting in 1936, when he was a member of the Bengal football team. He eventually made his mark on Bengal athletics as a coach and administrator. His career football coaching record of 79-38-2 (67.8 percent) was compiled from 1952 to 1965. Among those seasons included unbeaten seasons in 1952 and 1957 and the 1963 Big Sky Conference championship in the first year of the league's existence. He also won five Rocky Mountain Conference championships, starting with his first two seasons of 1952 and 1953, and also in 1955, 1957, and 1959. Babe also coached baseball for eight seasons, 1967-74, and posted a 152-116 record. His 28-5 team in 1968 is considered the best baseball team in school history. Caccia led ISU's wrestling program as well.
He eventually moved into the role of administrator, serving as an assistant athletic director for 14 years and then athletic director for seven.
A tribute to Babe Caccia. Click to enlarge.
Caccia was inducted in the ISU Sports Hall of Fame and the Holt Arena Ring of Honor. During the 2007 Homecoming game, the playing surface at Holt Arena was named Caccia Field and Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter proclaimed Oct. 3, 2007 as Babe Caccia Day.
Since 2002, the Southern Idaho Chapter of the National Football Foundation has presented the Babe Caccia Scholar-Athlete Award to an Idaho State senior at their annual banquet in Boise. In 1999, Sports Illustrated named him one of the 50 most influential sports figures from the state of Idaho.
He was big in civic involvement, especially after his retirement. He served as a Pocatello City Councilman and was a founding member of Pocatello's Sports Committee, which has brought many sporting events, including two NCAA Division I-AA national championship football games, to the Gate City.
Caccia met his wife of 35 years, Tracy, while coaching in Edmonton, Alberta, in the Canadian Football League after he had concluded his ISU coaching career.
One person in the athletic department that was very close to Caccia was head football coach John Zamberlin.
"For the university and community and state of Idaho, we lost a great man," Zamberlin said. "Babe is someone who took me under his wing and was a great mentor and a friend. I talked to him on almost a weekly basis, whether it was football, or life, or fishing. I learned so much from him Ö I'm just stunned.
"You know he would call me up in the summer time and say `Coach, I got some plays I want to run by you'. It's tough, because we lost someone that's more than just a guy. He loved his wife Tracy, and his children and grandchildren. I really feel blessed got to know him and know him on a friendship level. He had a definite impact on my life."
Caccia is survived by his wife Tracy, daughter Heidi (Greg) Linehan of Genesee; sons Bill (Mary Jo) Caccia of Pocatello and John Caccia of Hailey; and five grandchildren, Solara, Emma, Thomas, Cody and Wyatt. He was preceded in death by his parents, sister, Lena Stevenson, and brother, Gene Caccia.
Fall 2009 Issue | By Glenn Alford
When I came to Idaho State in the summer of 1967, I got one of the best breaks of my life ó I was assigned to share an office with Babe Caccia.
I was 24 and came to Pocatello after three years in the U.S. Army and a couple of months lying on the beach in my hometown, Half Moon Bay, Calif. and collecting unemployment. In short, my work ethic was not finely tuned. I was raised by a hard-working single mother and when I got to ISU I had some rough edges that needed the attention of a male role model. I had no fathers when I arrived, but ended up with two Ė Babe and Dubby Holt.
Babe Caccia, second from left, coached conference champions in three sports.
Working closely with Babe had me working hard and taught me much about life. This was two years after his last season as ISUís head football coach and at the time he was assistant athletic director, ticket manager and head baseball coach. However Dubby, in his first year as athletic director, must have decided Babe didnít have enough to do. He assigned Babe to introduce me, the schoolís new sports information director, to the news media across the southern part of the state.
ďBabe knows everybody,Ē Dubby told me.
I was skeptical. Idaho is a big, spread-out state. How many people could he know?
I was wrong. Babe did know everybody.
We drove from Pocatello west to Nampa, where the state American Legion baseball tournament was being held that year and Babe hoped to recruit some players. We visited the sports media in Twin Falls, Mountain Home and Boise. And wherever we stopped, everyone knew Babe.
And it wasnít just the media. A couple of months later we stopped in Salmon for lunch en route to Missoula, walked into a diner, and three steps through the door, the crew on counter stools called, ďBabe, what are you doing in Salmon?Ē
In Nampa, I got a close look at the Caccia work ethic. Teams played from morning until after dark and we didnít miss a game. Babe worked the pro baseball scouts for names of college-worthy players. He signed Boyd and Bill Gailey, twins from Mountain Home who played shortstop and catcher, to letters of intent at midnight on a car hood by the light of our carís headlights.
Being friends with Babe, I met many of the football players he coached Ė men like Dale Leatham, Chuck Forrestal and Don Papenberg. I found out my experience was not unique. Babe coached someone to be a valuable member of society first and a defensive tackle, or even a sports information director, second. In short, he coached people like he would teach his children.
Itís no coincidence that Babe, an outstanding football and baseball player and wrestler at the University of Idaho Southern Branch, and his son, John, twice an All-American wrestler at ISU, are the first father and son to be inducted in the ISU Sports Hall of Fame.
Babe retired from ISU in 1986. Heíd served as athletic director and been ISUís most successful coach in both football and baseball. His accomplishments continued in retirement and included two terms on the Pocatello City Council and helping found the Pocatello Sports Committee that brought two NCAA Division I-AA national championship football games and other events, like the Pocatello Marathon, to the Gate City.
Every college in the country has a most successful football coach, and a most successful baseball coach, and a former athletic director, but just a very few of them ó maybe none of them ó have all of that in just one man. And Iíll guarantee you none of them have such a man who did all that in the community where he grew up, and then retired there to perform significant community service.
I have 650 words to tell you my thoughts about Babe and Iím not going to make it because he was so beloved, accomplished so much, helped so many people and did all that with such a zest for life.
Hero worship? Sure, but everybody he coached feels the same way. Iím just the one with the word processor.