Leaving a Legacy
Never again will Bob Shaffer have to dodge an icy water cooler.
It’s a good thing, because he never did figure out how to avoid the chilly, celebratory assault, even after four consecutive state-championship soakings carried out by his Truckee players.
On Tuesday, days before his 60th birthday, the third-winningest high school football coach in Nevada history quietly called it a career.
“I’m sad to say it,” said Shaffer, winner of nine state championships in his 18 years as head coach of the Wolverines. “I don’t know if it’s the right time, but it’s the time.”
Shaffer, who turns 60 on Friday, announced the news to his coaches and players first, citing a desire to spend more time with his parents and watch his two youngest sons’ college athletics.
“I just felt that I needed to step away, and I know it (the program) will be in good hands,” Shaffer said, adding that he’s 99 percent sure of his successor. “It’s going to keep right on rolling. I just felt like this was as good of a time as any.”
Defensive coordinator Josh Ivens, who played for the Wolverines from 1988 through 1991 and began coaching with Shaffer on junior varsity in 1993, will likely take over the head coaching position, both he and Shaffer confirmed.
Ivens, also a physical education teacher at the high school, must still apply and interview for the job, but he should be an easy choice based on his employment with the school district and long coaching tenure, said Truckee athletic director Jaime Legare.
“Obviously my whole role changes pretty quickly,” Ivens said, adding that Shaffer’s announcement came as a slight surprise, as he expected him to coach at least one more season. “It’s an opportunity for me to keep the program going and try to live up to the foundation that he’s put forth. We’ve got good coaches still in place, and I think we’ll be able to do that.”
The Wolverines became accustomed to winning in Shaffer’s nearly two decades at the helm.
Since taking over the head coaching position in 1995, Shaffer tallied an overall record of 170-32, winning 84 percent of the time. His win total ranks third all time in Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (NIAA) history, behind Joe Sellers’ 250 and Ken Dalton’s 228. In addition to his nine state titles – 1996, 1998, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 – Shaffer has led the Wolverines to three state runner-up finishes, in 1995, 2002 and 2008, and 14 league titles, including the last six straight.
But while Truckee football is steeped in such a successful tradition – the Wolverines have 12 state titles in all – its never had a run quite like the last four years.
The Wolverines have won four consecutive Division I-A (formerly 3A) state championships, losing only once along the way. They drew national attention this past season when they extended their three-year-plus winning streak to 41 games, which ranked fourth in the nation in 11-man high school football. After suffering its only loss in four years, a 7-0 defeat at the hands of Fernley, Truckee went on to win its final six games, including a 34-10 triumph over Southern Nevada rival Moapa Valley in the state championship.
“Everyone knows that he’s a great coach. He’s done so much for the high school and just the community as a whole,” said former Truckee standout linebacker Morgan Nevin, who’s now starring at Santa Barbara City College. “He’s taken so many kids who probably didn’t think they had what it takes to play football, or didn’t think they had what it takes to be a champion, and he made them believe they were champions. And look how it turned out for him – nine state championships.”
Respect well earned
Shaffer’s successful ways not only earned him the respect of his players, but also his opposition. Even Brent Lewis, head coach of the Moapa Valley Pirates, whom Truckee has faced the past five years in the state championship, payed homage to his rival.
“He’s going to be missed. I guess it’s good and bad. Now I don’t have to coach against him anymore, but it’s bittersweet,” Lewis said when contacted Wednesday, adding that he was “a little bit shocked” to learn of Shaffer’s retirement.
“I admire Bob as much as any coach that I’ve coached against in my career. He really set the standard for excellence in the 3A and Division I-A,” Lewis continued. “When I think back over the years that I’ve faced Bob, the thing that stands out to me the most is just how well coached and how disciplined his teams always were. To me, preparing to play against a Truckee team was literally like preparing to face a college football team.”
For some, like former Fallon standout Frank de Braga, playing a single game for Shaffer and his staff – the Sertoma Classic all-star game – was enough to change his outlook on his former nemesis.
“I am a true Fallon boy but I played against Coach Shaffer and with him in the Sertoma game. I respect that man greatly and wish him the best of luck,” de Braga, now playing at Colorado Mesa University, wrote on the Truckee Football Facebook page.
Based on Shaffer’s stellar track record, one might think his retirement is a devastating blow to the perennial powerhouse program. But his players and coaches know different.
“I’d have to say it’s disappointing and sad that he’s retiring,” said junior receiver Sean Daniel. “But it’s not that bad of a thing because Ivens is a really great coach. He’ll step up and we can still do great even without Shaffer and continue to do what we’ve been doing.”
Shaffer couldn’t agree more. He laughed when someone called his resignation the end of an era, because in his opinion, every member of his coaching staff is worthy of equal praise. In the case of Ivens, the defensive mastermind behind Truckee’s recent dominance is groomed and beyond prepared to take over, Shaffer said.
“I’m very confident in Josh. He’s a true Truckee Wolverine, there’s no doubt about it; he was born and raised here, played and graduated here, and came back. So he knows the history and he’s as invested as anyone we have here on any staff in any sport,” Shaffer said. “So I feel real comfortable about that, and I think that makes the transition easy.”
While Ivens will look to maintain Truckee’s defensive prowess, the Wolverines will have to make due without Shaffer’s offensive play-calling. Ivens said that duty will fall on either quarterbacks coach Nik Fertitta or lines coach Rick Wilson.
But as of Wednesday, Fertitta was undecided about whether he was going to return, Ivens said, adding that he expects an answer from the assistant coach by Friday. If Fertitta does leave the program, Wilson will be the primary play-caller, Ivens said.
Special teams coach Dow Higginbotham, who has been on the Truckee coaching staff since 1991 – Ivens’ senior year – is not returning in 2013, either. Linebackers coach Jim Doughty is returning.
“Even if Nik goes and Dow is gone, I still feel pretty confident in the guys we have coming back,” Ivens said.
Nevertheless, Shaffer’s football acumen will be missed, he added.
“He has a great ability to bring people together and get them all on the same page. And then of course, he’s one of the best football minds I’ve been around,” Ivens said. “He’s a stubborn guy, but he wasn’t so stubborn that he wouldn’t change a game plan to beat a team. If his system wasn’t working, he’d adjust. He knew how to call a game.
“To me, out of all the success he had, I thought he had a stretch of the best game-calling he ever had at the end of this year, after the Fernley game. The Fernley game we were a mess. It was probably one of his worst play-calling games. But after that,-he said, ‘This is a coaching thing, and we’re going to fix it.’ In the state game and throughout the playoffs, knowing we couldn’t run the ball, he found a way to score points, and it was pretty amazing to be a part of that.”
Shaffer is not cutting his ties from Truckee football completely. He’ll remain at the school for at least a few more years as a P.E. teacher, and he may very well get roped into helping Ivens from time to time, he said. And that’s fine by Shaffer, who admittted that he’s “already missing it.”
“Josh told me, ‘I’ve got some awful big shoes to fill.’ And I told him, ‘The only shoes you have to fill are your own.’ To me, I was just a couple chapters in the history of Truckee football. Now Josh Ivens is the next guy, and he’s going to pick it up and write the next chapter, along with the senior class.
“It should be fun and entertaining to watch, and I think they’re going to have great results.”