If you drive about 350 miles south down the picturesque Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco, you will find the small central California coast town of Santa Barbara.
It’s located 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles.
The Santa Ynez Mountains serve as a backdrop for this small community, commonly referred to as the “American Riviera,” due in large part to the geography and climate being similar to the areas of the Northern Mediterranean Sea coast of Southern France.
It’s the perfect place.
The local university, UC-Santa Barbara, was one of the four schools in the University of California system that played football.
In 1985, Melvin’s last year at San Francisco State, UC-Santa Barbara had just begun a football program, which for two years was a club team, then went Division III for a year before being promoted to a Division II program before the 1988 season.
At that point, they needed an offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
Melvin had just spent two years at Northern Arizona University, where he had followed Reid as his grad assistant after San Francisco State. Reid was the offensive line coach.
The offensive coordinator at Northern Arizona was Brad Childress, who is currently an offensive assistant with the Chiefs. The relationship they developed during this time would help not only their professional lives down the road, but also their families.
Reid left NAU after one year to take a job at the University of Texas-El Paso, but Melvin stayed there for another year. The new offensive line coach at NAU that Melvin worked with after Reid was Bill Callahan, who is currently the OL coach in Washington.
“Both of those guys are typical OL coaches,” Melvin noted. “They’re grinders. You hear that from coach [Reid] all of the time. That’s how I was trained.”
Melvin recalled the way Reid would always set the tone with his new players when he got to a new place, both when he was a player at San Francisco State and then together as coaches at Northern Arizona.
“He’s going to weed people out,” Melvin recalled. “He’s going to make it so that the only guys who are standing are the ones who really want to be there.”
Despite their paths now taking them in separate directions, they always stayed in touch.
It was just a bunch of young guys having a blast. I still say, the most fun I ever had in my life, for any part of my life, was that three years in Santa Barbara on the beach. It was just pure living life to its fullest.”
- Melvin on Santa Barbara job
Melvin was a California guy, having attended Cubberely High School in Palo Alto, where he played football, baseball and soccer. Thus the opportunity in Santa Barbara was a perfect fit for Melvin.
He left NAU and returned home to California, a decision he’d never regret.
“It was just a bunch of young guys having a blast,” Melvin said of that time. “I still say, the most fun I ever had in my life, for any part of my life, was that three years in Santa Barbara on the beach.
“It was just pure living life to its fullest.”
The only member of the staff that was married at the time was the head coach. The rest of the guys were just young and living on the beach.
The recruiting aspect of the job was as simple as “picking up the phone,” he said.
“There was no better job in California than that Santa Barbara job,” Reid, another California guy, recalled, “and then they dropped football.”
UCSB dropped their football program in 1990, putting Melvin and all of the other young coaches on that staff out the door.
“I thought my career was done,” Melvin recalled. “I didn’t have anywhere to go.”
At that point, Melvin was looking for jobs outside of football. He just recently got engaged, had earned his Master’s Degree from NAU and was at a crossroads.
He was offered a graduate assistant position from his old friend—Reid, who was at the University of Missouri at the time and couldn’t offer anything else.
They had stayed in touch and gotten together from time to time when Reid was out in California recruiting.
“I was actually there the day in Santa Barbara when he met his future wife,” Reid recalled.
But the graduate assistant path wasn’t a road he could go down again and so he declined that opportunity, although it wasn’t the last time they’d speak about getting together.
In August of 1991, just two weeks before the football season was to begin, Melvin got a call from Occidental College in Los Angeles, a small academically-oriented Division III college that had just a decade earlier been home to the future President of the United States, Barack Obama.
Melvin was hired as the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
He didn’t have to walk away from the game that had been such a big part of his life for the previous decade, both as a player and coach.
But Occidental, or “Oxy,” as it’s commonly referred, wasn’t the same kind of institution Melvin had previously been coaching at.
It really was an academic institution.
At one point, Melvin said four of his starting offensive linemen at Oxy went on to become doctors.
“You knew that all of them would be successful doing whatever they chose to do,” Melvin noted. “They were neat kids and I really enjoyed that part of it."
Melvin stayed at Oxy for nine years, and while football was just something these kids were good at, not necessarily something their life’s focus would be about, they had plenty of success on the field.
One of his players, Bryan Madlangbayan, who was an All-Conference running back and one of the best to ever play at Oxy, remembers Melvin for the passion he had for the game.
Tom Melvin (top middle) with Jed Wockenfuss (lower left) and Bryan Madlangbayan (lower right) back at Occidental College.
“He loves football,” Madlangbayan said. “His passion drove his worth ethic and it’s one of those things where he never had to tell anyone how hard to work in order to be great because he was always there doing the work.
“That influenced everything else he did.”
Madlangbayan recalled one particular day after they won a blowout victory over Menlo College back in in 1993, the year they went 8-1, the team was watching film of the game and something about Melvin’s sideline demeanor caught its attention while watching the tape.
That game was one to me was one where [coach Melvin] was willing to, despite what we thought was going to happen all week, listen to what we were saying and go with the changes."
- Jed Wockenfuss on Melvin
“We're watching it and he's talking about the play, but you see him on the sideline practically just throwing his call sheet and screaming at the top of his lungs at the ref,” Bryan recalled. “He's pumping his fists and screaming. One of us made him rewind it a few times and watch it over and over.
“It was a funny moment, but you could just tell how much he cared.”
To be fair, the two holding calls, both of which negated touchdown runs of 50 and then 80 yards on the same drive, were questionable, according to Madlangbayan.
Jed Wockenfuss, one of Melvin’s linemen and a vocal leader on that Oxy team back in 1993, remembers the respect he showed for them, including the willingness to let his players have a voice.
“What I always appreciated about Coach Melvin was that there were times where he just put complete trust in his players,” Wockenfuss explained.
He recalled a particular game against Cal Lutheran, which along with Oxy, was competing for the league championship each year, and how Melvin showed trust in them to divert from their initial game plan.
“Some of their strongest players were right up the middle,” Wockenfuss said of this Cal Lutheran team. “Rather than run away from them because they were fast and were running down these wide plays, we just ran right at them. And when we did, we opened up the whole offense.
“We were able to exploit it late in the game and we won.
“That game was one to me was one where [coach Melvin] was willing to, despite what we thought was going to happen all week, listen to what we were saying and go with the changes."
It was a sign of good coaching, something Melvin would grow accustomed to.