Rifle looking for new coach after Sulkowski takes Florida job
Post Independent Staff
RIFLE – When it comes to family, sometimes you just have to be a little selfish.
With a baby on the way in July and his family more than 1,700 miles away in southern Georgia, Rifle High School head football coach Ryan Sulkowski just couldn’t say no to a chance to move closer to home.
So, after one season in Rifle, Sulkwoski is leaving to take over as head football coach at Baker County High School in Glen St. Mary, Fla. There, he’ll be a two-hour drive away from his parents, who live in Tifton, Ga.
That, of course, also means that Sulkowski’s wife, Heather, is leaving her post as Rifle’s head volleyball coach. Heather’s parents, based in coastal North Carolina, are also relatively close.
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In the end, family won out.
“We’re having a child in July and I don’t want my son or daughter to not know their grandparents,” Ryan said. “Our intention when we moved out here was not to be here for a year. Things change. God pointed us in this direction. … I applied for the job, interviewed and received an offer. Bottom line is we’re excited about getting closer to home.”
Sulkowski led the football Bears to a 4-6 record last fall. He took over a program that’s suffered from a lack of stability in recent years. He was the program’s third head coach in two years, grabbing the reins from interim frontman Anthony Alfini.
Alfini coached the Bears through 2008 after the man tabbed to coach the team that year – Bill Kucera – injured his neck while demonstrating a blocking technique during a preseason practice.
Before that, Damon Wells, who served as an assistant on Sulkowski’s staff in 2009, spent three years as Rifle’s football coach.
Sulkowski wholly believes he’s leaving a program with a bright future behind.
With 44 current eighth-graders in line to enter the program and 36 freshmen coming back as sophomores in the fall, the program’s growing particularly strong in the numbers department.
Sulkowski just didn’t feel he could make a long-term commitment to the program. Not with his first child on the way.
“We just could not commit to three years,” he said. “Honestly, these kids deserve somebody who will be here, somebody to lead them within the Western Slope and everything else. They deserve somebody who’s going to be here.”
Both Ryan and Heather carry a wealth of experience with them to Florida.
Prior to coming to Rifle, Ryan served as a graduate assistant at Clemson University (Clemson, S.C.). The 32-year-old owns some 12 years of coaching experience, with stops in both the prep and collegiate ranks. In his playing days, Sulkowski was an offensive lineman at Valdosta State University (Valdosta, Ga.).
Heather, who will take some time off from coaching after giving birth, should have no problem finding employment when the time is right. The former collegiate volleyball player has eight years of coaching experience, all but the most recent year at the college level. Before coming to Rifle, she was the head volleyball coach at Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C.
Ryan’s new job places him in a football-crazed corner of the country. His introduction as Baker County’s coach last week featured a police escort and a well-attended reception.
“When they flew Heather and I back over on Friday for a press conference, we met the Baker County sheriffs on the interstate and, when we got off the interstate, they had every intersection closed down. They gave us a complete escort. … We showed up and there were 300 people outside the gym shouting, ‘Wildcats!’ That’s what they are, the Baker County Wildcats.”
At Baker County, Sulkowski’s taking over for departing head coach Bobby Johns, who was 33-12 in four years atop the program. Johns led the Wildcats to three straight playoff appearances.
“It’s a great program with great people in the community,” Sulkowski said. “It’s two hours from where I grew up. We’ll be close to all my family, close to Heather’s family. We’re just excited about the opportunity.”
Sulkowski will assume his new post in early April. He hopes the transition is as smooth as the one he experienced in Rifle.
“I’d be foolish not to thank [Garfield School District Re-2 Superintendent] Dave Smucker, [Rifle High School Principal] Todd Ellis, all my assistant coaches and the teachers at the school for providing us with a home, as short-lived as it was,” Sulkowski said. “They had an effect on our lives. They took us in out here, 2,000 miles away from anything we were used to.
“They’re just good people out here. Great people. … We wish it could be a little different, but we made the decision and we’re excited about moving.”
Rifle will officially begin its search for a replacement once the Re-2 school board approves Sulkowski’s resignation.
Said Ellis: “We appreciate the efforts the Sulkowskis gave to the students of RHS.”
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