When he picked Ed Musolff to be the first head coach of his school’s new women’s basketball program in the fall of 1980, then-Cuesta College president Frank Martinez made his priorities clear.
“He said, ‘We want you to build a good foundation, to always run an honest, clean program, to follow the rules and stress academics,’ ” Musolff recalled.
After three full decades of living up to those principles, Musolff, 64, is retiring to have more free time, the coach said Tuesday. He was the longest-tenured active community college women’s basketball coach in California.
Musolff — the only head coach the program has ever known — went 427-416 from 1980-81 through this past season, making 13 postseason appearances along the way. He was named the state coach of the year in 1997, when the Cougars went 27-7, finishing seventh at the state tournament.
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Musolff, who also retired from position teaching social sciences at Morro Bay High two years ago, started his coaching career in 1969 as an assistant at UC San Diego.
“When you’re in your 20s, I’m not sure you think about doing something for 30 years,” Musolff said. “It was a good run. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.”
In 1981-82, Musolff — known for his easygoing, instructive demeanor — guided Cuesta through a 19-1 season that culminated in a Northern California Division II championship.
“He’s had such a tremendous, rewarding career,” Cuesta athletic director Bob Mariucci said. “We’re very proud of all of his accomplishments and how he represented Cuesta College over that time.
“He’s very respected around the entire state for running his program with class and integrity. Ed will truly be missed, not only as a coach but as a colleague and a mentor.”
Arguably no local prep coach had as close of a relationship with Musolff as 23rd-year Morro Bay girls coach Cary Nerelli, who has sent nearly 20 of his players to the Cougars. Next year, Nerelli said, two more of his products — Ciara Ramos and Casey Peterson — are expected to continue their careers a short drive up Highway 1.
“He’s always been able to maximize the potential from the talent he receives,” Nerelli said, “and at the (junior college) level, you never know what you’re going to get (talent-wise) from year to year.”
Musolff’s continued stressing of off-court qualities have become increasingly rare, Nerelli said, especially in a fast-changing community college circuit where inclusive admissions requirements and a general statewide inability to effectively police recruiting violations can tempt some coaches to compromise the letter of the law to up win totals and advance their own careers.
“The junior college level is going to miss Ed,” Nerelli said. “He always was particular about running a clean program.
“He’s never been tempted to stoop to doing anything illegal to make his program win. That’s something coaching in general will miss. He’s one of the most honorable men I know.”
Cuesta is already in the process of considering replacement candidates, Mariucci said.
Cuesta men’s assistant Ron Barba said he has applied for the position. Barba said it was his understanding that interviews are expected to start about the second week of July.
Prior to joining Cuesta’s staff this past season, Barba served as the girls head coach at St. Joseph High in Santa Maria, going 115-23 over five years. In his final season coaching the Knights, he led the program to a CIF-Southern Section Division 5-AA championship. In the process, he helped lay the groundwork for a squad that was ranked in the top 25 of Southern California by the Los Angeles Times this past season en route to claiming its second divisional title in a row.
A 1975 graduate of San Luis Obispo High, Barba went on to earn an associate degree from Cuesta.
Whoever ends up stepping into Musolff’s shoes will indeed have a lofty legacy overhead, Barba said.
“I don’t think anyone has anything negative to say about him,” Barba said.
Musolff, who can recall the fetal days of the women’s game when two-handed overhead shots were commonplace, voiced pride in playing a role in seeing the sport evolve to a point where its professionals’ pure fundamentals are arguably equal to, if not better than, those of their often flashier male counterparts.
A resident of Cayucos, Musolff said he often runs into former players on the Central Coast still wanting to reminisce about their days on the court.
“It’s just been a very enjoyable opportunity to work with kids and to coach the game you love,” Musolff said. “The ups and downs of a coach’s life are really probably not enjoyed by most other careers.
“You’d have to be something like a jet pilot or a high-up business person to match the incredible thrill of a last-second shot or the depth of emotion, even from a devastating loss. Those experiences are tough to match.”