UPDATED...just talked to Pleasant Grove coach Joe Cattolico....I blend in our conversation below...
I stopped by the Granite Bay High School football practice today to see coach Ernie Cooper jet from one place to another and to observe a Grizzlies team hungry for more titles for a Bee story on the program on Thursday.
Cooper and I talked about an old coaching friend of his in Butch Cattolico, who on Monday stepped down after 41 seasons at Los Gatos High, including 26 as the head man. Butch won 16 league championships and 12 section titles as one of the state's guru leaders.
Barely 30 minutes later, I learned that Butch's son Joe Cattolico had also stepped down today at Pleasant Grove. Cattolico is one of this region's truly great young football minds, leaders and winners, beyond his four Delta River League championships, three Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title trips and championship in 2010. I relayed the word to Cooper, who couldn't believe it. The news seemed to suck the life out of Cooper. He plucked his cell phone from his pocket, thumbed out a number and walked away.
Coaches, you see, are a coaching fraternity. They root for each other. They understand each other's language. Only a coach can comprehend the daily grind it is to run a program.
Talking to Cattolico at length tonight, and there was relief in his voice. He said he didn't come to the decision to step down until after the season, nor did he step away due to illness in the family. That he and his father stepped aside a day apart was sheer coincidence.
Cattolico will remain at Pleasant Grove as a social studies teacher. His wife Natasha is also a teacher. They have two young sons.
"I am a man at peace," Cattolico said of his choice to step away at 38, for now. "I am at peace with a heavy heart. I love teaching. I love coaching football. I love spending time with my family. But whoa. There's not enough hours in the day to do it all. Teaching means a lot to me. It's something I'm passionate about. Teaching and coaching have a lot of merit - working with young people.
"I can't stop teaching because it's (what I do). It's kind of a three-prong deal. I can't stop being a dad and husband."
So he stopped being a coach, for now. Cattolico said he may well return to the sideline, but when and where, who knows. He certainly doesn't. He might return as an assistant. Some coaches step aside and never miss the grind, too.
Ask those who played for him or coached against him and they will tell you that the Cattolico impact resonates. And every coach who walked away for a spell or for good can relate to the grind, the expectations, and yes, sometimes the parental pressure to do more.
Cattolico said the emotion was heavy when he met with his team. The athetes were crushed. Dre Terrell, Cattolico's gutty junior quarterback and team leader, fought back tears. There's no shame in chocking up when a coach means that much to you. Terrell tweeted that Cattolico isn't just loved as a coach, but as a person. That's deep respect.
"There were a lot of hugs and there were some tears," he said. "That's what makes it hard - the players and coaches."
Cattolico was a bold hire by Pleasant Grove athletic director Jeff Caton in 2005, a school so new in the Elk Grove Unified School District that the summer breezes nearly up-rooted infant trees. Cattolico was an ambitious move because he was not a local name. He was in the Bay Area, as was his father and mentor.
He's a big name now, an expert leader, a shrewd tactician and proof that old-school football works then and now. Cooper and Granite Bay slugged out a win over Pleasant Grove for the D-I title last season. Said Cooper today of Cattolico, "One of the great football coaches in America."
Cattolico downplayed his success and said it was a combined effort that included talented players and top-notch assistants, adding, "I get more credit than I deserve."
Cattolico went with power football, disdained headsets and play sheets and was a heavy thinker during games. The running joke out of admiration by his peers and assistants was that only a Princeton graduate could get by during a game without a headset and play sheet. The mere mortal coaches would have their brains explode otherwise.
And of course, Cattolico is a Princeton grad.
Cattolico grew up in the greater Bay Area, attending countless coaching clinics with his father. He was a high school star in San Jose and later got the coaching itch.
So now in a sense, there are two coaching Cattolico's on the loose. The elder Cattolico put in his time. Young Cattolico has a lot of years left to give to his craft.
Pleasant Grove remains a plumb job. There will be scores of candidates. The program will march forward, though Caton the AD knows replacing Cattolico is no easy chore.
Cattolico will coach the South team in the 57th Optimist All-Star Football Classic on Dec. 22 at Del Oro along with coaching pals Mike Johnson of Franklin and John Heffernan of Burbank. They'll match wits against the North squad coached by Casey Taylor of Del Oro and Mike Alberghini and Reggie Harris of Grant.
Here's hoping it's not the last time we see Coach Catt on a regional sideline.
- Joe Davidson
- On Twitter: @SacBee_JoeD
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