1988 FOOTBALL INDUCTEE
The handsome Santa Cruz-born Kenneth “Kenny'” Gleason was what some would call a “natural.”It didn’t matter what sport he tried; he excelled in football, basketball, and track at Santa Cruz High School and football, basketball, and baseball at Fresno State. After his playing days, Gleason turned to coaching. He coached several sports at Fowler High School for four years, then played football for the U.S. Naval Pre-Flight School at St. Mary’s in 1942. Three years later, Gleason tutored the unbeaten U.S. Naval Air Station in Hutchinson, Kansas. After his discharge, he returned to Fresno State in 1946 to assist James “Rabbit” Bradshaw.
When Bradshaw decided to become the Director of Physical Education for Fresno County in 1947, Gleason was given the head job. Bill Robinson booted a last-second field goal to beat San Jose State 21-20 in Fresno to save a 3-6-2 season. In 1948, the Bulldogs were 3-3-1. Gleason returned to an assistant’s job and used his knowledge of offensive football to eventually help Clark Van Galder, Cecil Coleman, and Darryl Rogers turn the Bulldog program around. The highlight was the 1961 unbeaten 10-0 season capped by the 34-6 Mercy Bowl win over Bowling Green University in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Gleason was a true triple-threat back. He was an adept passer, a slippery runner, and an excellent punter who perfected the coffin corner kick. Gleason enrolled at Fresno State in 1935 and helped the Leo Harris-coached Bulldogs win the Far West Conference title. In 1937, Gleason led the Bradshaw-coached team to an 8-1-1 FWC championship and a thrilling 27-26 Little American Bowl win over Arkansas State in Gilmore Stadium in Los Angeles. Gleason also was Pete Beiden’s only assistant coach during a fabled career.
On top of all that, Gleason richly earned his nickname, “Fish.” He was recognized by the fly fishing fraternity as one of the finest practitioners of that sport in the western states. Gleason would make a thousand casts on his favorite Umpqua River in Oregon just to get one fish, knowing that it would be a twenty-plus pound steelhead. He was an outspoken adherent for catch and release fishing. Gleason even taught a fly fishing class at Fresno State. After retiring from coaching he moved to Oregon to live in the Umpqua.