New head coach likely coming to Rifle High School football
Re-2 board expected to vote on hire later this month
Chances are Rifle High School football has landed on a new head coach, the Garfield School District Re-2 announced Thursday.
Though approval by the Re-2 school board is still pending, 2002 Rifle graduate Ryan Whittington will take over for former Bears head coach Todd Casebier.
“It’s more exciting to be taking over a program that has that good a tradition than it is for me to come home,” Whittington said. “I’ll say that I enjoy being able to come back home, but I’m more excited about the tradition of excellence that (Rifle) has had over the last 25 years.”
The district has been in discussions and the hiring process with Whittington for about one week now.
Casebier, who said he recently resigned from Rifle to be closer to family, will take over head coaching duties for Durango High School. Meanwhile, Whittington has been assistant coach with Delta High School since 2009.
Casebier led the Bears to the 2021 3A state title, but Whittington is no stranger to success. The 36-year-old coach is known around Rifle as a former starting quarterback. Instrumenting his prowess in the pocket his senior season, Whittington led the Bears to a second-rank spot in the state and eventually an All-Conference nod.
In addition to his gridiron skills, Whittington also garnered an individual 4A state wrestling championship in the 171-pound division his senior year.
Perhaps most notable about the Rifle alum is his days playing college football for Mesa State — now known as Colorado Mesa University. He’d start there as quarterback before he transitioned to outside linebacker.
After graduating, Whittington worked as a defensive backs coach for Mesa State before becoming a physical education teacher in Delta. He also served as Delta’s defensive coordinator for four years before finishing out his final eight years as the offensive coordinator.
Whittington’s biggest coaching career highlight so far came in 2019. At the helm on the offensive end, he helped the Panthers achieve a state runner-up finish, as they lost a nail-biting 20-19 game to a tough 2A Sterling team.
But the highlights off the field are what Whittington truly values.
“All the relationships that I’ve built with the kids over 12 years, you know? We sent probably a dozen kids to play college football, you know, at the Division II, Division III levels,” he said. “So you can build a lot of relationships with all the success that comes with winning games. All those relationships are probably some of the biggest highlights that I’ve had.”
The offensive-minded Whittington said there’s a certain process he’s going to follow that stems from all elements of football he’s learned through years under the tutelage of former Mesa State head coach Joe Ramunno, Delta’s Ben Johnson and Rifle’s very own, former head coach Darrel Gorham.
“There’s no gimmicks in football,” Whittington said. “You gotta do the right things, you gotta stick to the plan, you gotta trust the process, and the process will take you, and you’ll win games that way.”
If Whittington’s takeover becomes official, he hopes to stay in his hometown of Rifle for years to come. He’s married with kids, and he gets to take over a program set to return 17 seniors, many who played pivotal roles in their run to the 2021 3A championship.
“We’re gonna be here for a long time,” he said. “This is not a stepping stone job by any means. This is a career job, definitely.”
Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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