|Ed Conroy – Dean of Empire football coaches
Rancho Cotate High mentor has been at the helm for 25 years but may hang up the whistle in three more seasons
The retirement of Montgomery High football coach Jason Franci last season catapulted Rancho Cotate’s Ed Conroy into the role as the dean of coaches in not only the North Bay League but also in the Redwood Empire.
Conroy will embark on his 26th season on Sept. 6 when Rancho Cotate squares off against Alhambra of Martinez at Cougar Stadium. How much longer he sticks around remains up in the air, but he has a tentative timetable for stepping down in three years when he turns 60 years old. But Conroy, also a physical education teacher at Rancho Cotate, wants his retirement as coach to coincide with his retirement from teaching, which he’s been doing the past 33 years.
“I know I’m toward the end of my career, and I’m looking forward to other things,” Conroy said. “But I know I won’t be able to still be a teacher on campus and watch someone else coach the team. So when I retire – from teaching and coaching – that will be it.”
Preparation’s the thing
Surprisingly, what keeps Conroy motivated is not standing on the sideline when the Cougars are in the heat of battle. It’s what happens the week leading up to the game where he gets a charge.
“I enjoy preparing for the game more than I enjoy the game,” he said. “And I really think it’s the challenge of coaching a different group of kids every year. The kids drive me crazy sometimes. But I love doing it, especially with all the things you talk to kids about…things live persevering, working harder than you think you can, sacrificing, being a good teammate. When it all comes to fruition and kids played well, played as well as they can whether they win or lose, that’s the satisfaction. It’s a joy for me seeing that in the kids. That keeps me coming back.”
A rocky start
Conroy’s career as head coach got off to a rocky start after taking over for Jim Hunt. His first year, the Cougars finished 3-7 and followed up with a winless season, the first in Rancho Cotate history. Then came a couple of 2-8 seasons. That’s the type of record that gets most coaches fired or reassigned. But the administration stuck with Conroy. And he has delivered two North Coast Section championships, several league titles and countless winning seasons and playoff appearances.
“I wouldn’t be here without the support of the administration and (former athletic director) Hank Sarlotte,” Conroy said. “I’ve also had some great assistant coaches”
Conroy played high school football at St. Vincent in Petaluma and then played in college at San Francisco State under Vic Rowan. He began his career at Rancho Cotate as the head freshman football coach, when he was hired by Norm Hansen.
“He was a great guy and the kids loved him,” Conroy said. “Norm was voted as the most popular teacher ever. And continuing to coach is a way for me to honor the guys who coached me and made an impact in my life as a person and a young man and to give that back to the kids I’m coaching.”
Balancing family life
Coaching as long as Conroy has also can take its toll on family life. Conroy and his wife, Carla, have three grown daughters: Katie, who lives in Los Angeles, Jill, his middle daughter in Chico; and Emily, a sophomore at Chico State. His wife is the principal at Del Harrison Middle School in Sonoma and was teaching in the Sonoma district when Conroy began coaching.
“I think I’ve found a good medium (between coaching and family life),” Conroy said. “I’d get home and get to as many soccer games as I could. They understood what I was doing. I think they’ve enjoyed coming to the games. And I would not do any football things when I got home. I tried to make sure they didn’t interfere with me being a dad and having time for them. I know my wife was frustrated at times. But I tried to make it up during the offseason. My wife was generous and understanding.”
Conroy hinted that sometimes he feels like an unofficial grandfather, as he’s watched some of the players he’s coached become fathers, and he may be coaching those players should he stay longer. Conroy gets satisfaction when he sees some of his former players understand some of the life lessons he tried to teach.
“I always remind teachers that the things we’re teaching, the kids may not understand right now, but at some point in life, the light goes on,” Conroy said. “It’s great when a player or student comes back and says, ‘I understand why you pushed so hard and why such a stickler for doing these things right.’”