Whitworth knows what it’s like to win a state title
He probably wouldn’t light a celebratory cigar this time around, but if Glenwood Springs High School football coach Rocky Whitworth is to land the Demons their third state title, he’ll have officially come full circle.As a 26-year-old and relative newbie to the Colorado prep coaching scene in 1977, Whitworth took Roaring Fork to Class 2A glory by beating Brush 44-8 for a state title. That was at the front end of a lengthy and storied coaching career that began in 1975 at the Carbondale school and has since snaked throughout Colorado at both the prep and collegiate levels.Nearly 30 years from that fateful late autumn day on which Roaring Fork reached the top of its class, the 56-year-old Whitworth is back on the Western Slope and once again gunning for state supremacy, this time with Roaring Fork’s longtime neighboring rival.A life dominated by sports
Given Whitworth’s present-day affinity for the passing game, it should come as no surprise he was a quarterback in his heyday. He was a multi-sport standout at Colorado Springs Wasson High School, where he also played defensive back. Whitworth went on to spread his collegiate football career between the University of New Mexico and the University of Northern Colorado. He played in the secondary at the former and was a quarterback at the latter.A testament to his athletic prowess, Whitworth could instead have chosen collegiate hockey, the sport his dad played at an All-American level at Colorado College. Whitworth even participated in baseball and dabbled in track on top of hockey and football in high school.From his playing days sprouted a prestigious coaching career that began in Carbondale and has included high school head coaching stops in Durango, Littleton, Arapahoe, Grand Junction and, before Glenwood, Grandview. He also served a stint coaching defensive backs and receivers at Colorado State University.Throughout the years, Whitworth has rubbed shoulders with some of the best coaches around. The short list includes Sonny Lubick at CSU, Kay Dalton at CSU and UNC and legendary Glenwood coach Don Miller, whom Whitworth coached against on the Western Slope in the late 1970s.After putting to bed a 30-plus year career in education with his retirement from teaching in 2003, Whitworth returned to the Western Slope, where he took up a career in real estate. A logical shift, considering his wife, Mary, is a Carbondale native.He couldn’t stay away from the gridiron, though, and took over the Demon program in 2004. Whitworth, who has more than 200 wins on his prep resume, is quick to tell you he never planned to put down the clipboard.
“You know, I think I’ll always be a coach,” he said. “The opportunity made itself available. Nothing in particular (drew me to the Glenwood job). Kids are kids. Towns are towns.”The love for coaching ran in the blood. His dad, Harry, coached a little of everything at Wasson. Still, the younger Whitworth didn’t take to coaching until his playing days were done.”Not until my senior year of college,” he said. “I was going to do student teaching and the football coach there (at Coronado High School) knew I’d been a college athlete so he got me out there. That first week I knew I loved it.”Building a championship-caliber programThe early returns at Glenwood were mixed. The Demons made the playoffs for the first time since 1990 in Whitworth’s first year, going 6-5. Glenwood dipped to 3-7 and 4-6 in the next two seasons before this year, posting the school’s first undefeated regular-season record since 1979.Whitworth, who made five state playoff appearances with a Grandview team that went 0-10 in his first year as its coach (1998), which also happened to be the football program’s first year of existence.
Now in his fourth season with the Demons, he has things headed in better than the right direction. Glenwood is among the favorites to win a state title as it enters the playoffs against visiting Sterling this weekend.Miller, who led Glenwood to its only state titles in 1978 and 1980 and now runs the clock at Demon home games, is impressed with what his one-time rival has accomplished here.”We’re rivals, arch-rivals,” Miller said. “I have a lot of respect for him. I don’t know what he had at Grandview or some of those other schools, but he’s adapted very well in the coaching profession. He’s doing a great job.”The formula for success seems simple enough.”The first thing we did was work on the fitness program; the weight program was down,” Whitworth said. “The second thing was attitude and effort. The third thing is probably getting the players to realize this game is about your teammates.” And that overcoming selfishness is the crux of what the veteran coach wanted his players to buy into.”This team has a chemistry like I have never seen before, ever,” Whitworth said. “It is a respectful chemistry that they have for each other and for their commitment to things. They care enough to play for each other. They want to do things for the right reason and that reason is, they don’t want to let each other down.”
Chemistry and work ethic are exactly what Whitworth was looking for when he came back to the Western Slope, said Roaring Fork golf coach Larry Williams, who was a freshman player for the Rams’ 1977 state-champion team.”I ran into Rocky every once in a while (when he was coaching elsewhere),” Williams noted. “He was always talking about wanting to get back to the Western Slope type of kid, meaning one with work ethic. The farmer, rancher, coal miner type of kid.”People who’ve associated with Whitworth aren’t shocked at his success. Count Williams among that group.”One of his strengths back then, and I’m guessing probably is now, is the rapport he develops with kids,” he said. “Rocky was the kind of coach you wanted to play hard for. As a player, you’d see how hard he’s working as a coach and you immediately develop that respect. You know he cared about you as a person, besides just as an offensive lineman or defensive back.”Whitworth’s current players value his mentorship. Just ask current Demon quarterback Dakota Stonehouse.”It is awesome (playing for him),” the junior passer said. “He is such an offensive-minded coach. He knows so much about football. It has just been a blast playing for him.”
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