Finding coaches becoming tougher for Garfield County high school athletics

Ray K. Erku
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Glenwood Springs football’s Blake Nieslanik (15) celebrates with a coach after recording an interception in the team’s Nov. 5 home win over Battle Mountain.
Rich Allen/Glenwood Springs Post Independent archive photo

Coal Ridge High School Athletic Director Ben Kirk was confronted with a tough decision after no one really applied for the job. Head girls golf coach Joseph Bledsoe stepped down in 2021, and any prospective replacement couldn’t dedicate enough time to extra-curricular tutelage.

“I had to call those girls and say you can play in Rifle,” he said.

Like most high school sports programs across the nation right now, Garfield County athletics directors are seeing fewer applicants for open coaching positions.

Kirk said five years ago vacant positions were filled within just a couple of days. Now, it’s as though no one wants them, he said.

Not only is Coal Ridge currently down a girls golf coach, its varsity football program is looking for a defensive coordinator while the school’s weight room is also down a full-time coach.

“Finding qualified people that are already invested in the community is the hardest part,” Kirk said.

Nobody got into coaching U.S. high schools athletics to make money. Love for sport and its life lessons are still there, but pay is in the equation, said Rifle High School Athletics Director Chris Bomba.

The Garfield School District Re-2, complete with 4,700 students, currently pays 10% of base salary for coaches. Jobs posted online offer anywhere from $3,320 to $4,151 per year.

Rifle High School has openings expected for head soccer coaches and an assistant head coach position, Bomba said.

“We have many jobs that have been open for months,” he said.

Newly hired Glenwood Springs High School head football coach Tory Jensen is right now asking for more volunteer coaches. Prior to taking over for former head coach Patrick Engle, the Demons’ 65-man roster was overseen by five coaches — despite having 11 coaches listed on online high school sports hub MaxPreps.

Though only May, Jensen said he has at least 80 students signed up to play Demons’ 2022 fall season. The former Roaring Fork High School coach used to have 12-13 coaches for a roster of 60.

Jensen is trying to bring back that number, he said.

“I don’t like kids standing around. I want everybody moving,” Jensen said. “The more coaches we have, the more I can get guys to do more reps and not be sitting out there, hanging out, watching other guys doing reps.”

Jensen also said convincing people with full-time jobs to coach high school football after work is tough.

“Everybody’s working their tails off right now because there’s so much available work,” he said. “Getting guys who can commit full time is super difficult.”

Ideally, Jensen wants enough coaches to come out by the start of spring camp, slated for May 31.

“For the next three weeks, I want guys to realize that football’s a fun game, and it’s something worth committing time to,” Jensen said. “Football’s hard, and it’s not for everyone. But I think for those who buy into it, they become better people for it.”

For Bomba, recruiting and retaining high school coaches is the difference between sports thriving or simply fizzling out.

“Worst case scenario,” Bomba said, “we don’t have the sport.”