The San Luis Obispo High athletics department has taken a dramatic shift after four of the school’s varsity head coaches resigned recently from their positions.
John Clarke was asked to quit as the girls soccer coach after 16 years with the program, while baseball coach Bobby Ryan, boys soccer coach Johnny Costa and boys basketball coach Jim Thompson exited on their own terms.
Clarke’s departure is perhaps the most stunning, considering San Luis Obispo principal Leslie O’Connor asked the longtime walk-on coach to step down April 23, according to Clarke.
Ryan and Costa, who were also walk-on coaches, will continue to work on their full-time professions in plumbing and financial advising, respectively. Thompson is listed as a physical education teacher at San Luis Obispo.
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O’Connor said he could not discuss the personnel matter regarding Clarke. Nor did he confirm whether the coach was forced to quit, only saying that Clarke “did a great job” as a coach and that the school was moving in another direction.
“One of our goals is to have head coaches on campus, and at the same time, they’re quality teachers who are quality head coaches,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor also said that he is not interested in the coaching position despite his prolific resume at the high school and college levels. In 19 years at Bakersfield High, his boys and girls soccer teams won a combined 14 section titles.
“I’m the principal of the high school and I have a lot of other responsibilities,” he explained.
Clarke was in charge of one of the more successful programs at San Luis Obispo. He started in 1996 as the junior varsity coach before taking over the varsity program. Over the past 12 seasons, he compiled a 186-66-68 overall record with five league titles and 12 straight playoff appearances. His teams made the CIF-Southern Section divisional semifinals in 2010 and the quarterfinals five times.
Last season, the Tigers were 17-7-3. They ended the season with a 1-0 double-overtime loss to Yorba Linda in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 playoffs.
For Clarke, it was an unexpected farewell. He had planned to retire after the end of next season. He said he was “shocked” and “surprised” that he was asked to leave by O’Connor, who’s a first-year principal at San Luis Obispo.
“I can’t resent anything that happened to me at the high school,” Clarke said. “Of course, there were tough times and good times. I leave with nothing but a smile on my face I have no hard feelings toward anybody there. The only thing I’m sad about is not having the opportunity to go out on my terms.”
He plans to continue to work as a consultant, something he’s done for 20 years. He also said his high school coaching days in the area are over because he can’t see himself facing the Tigers, who are looking for his replacement.
“I won’t coach against SLO,” Clarke said. “I have too much respect for the program I built. I wouldn’t coach a team that would play against them.”
For the other San Luis Obispo coaches, it was time to move on.
Costa spent four seasons with the San Luis Obispo boys soccer program, compiling a 52-35-7 overall record with three postseason appearances. Last season, the Tigers (19-3-3) captured the PAC 7 title with a 10-1-1 record before losing in the second round of the playoffs.
Costa said his decision stemmed from the fact that it was difficult to commit to one job. His other profession is in financial advising. He plans to still be involved in the county’s soccer community, as he’s a committee member of the American Youth Soccer Organization in San Luis Obispo and the vice president of the San Luis Obispo Soccer Club.
“We were building a program and continuing to get better and better every year,” said Costa, who resigned in late April. “The freshmen came in getting better and better every year. It was a tough decision to make. At the same time, it takes a lot of time and energy to do the program right. To really have a winning program, you have to be up late watching film and planning a great training session and going out and having a good game.”
Thompson guided the Tigers’ boys basketball team to a 14-13 record last season, which included a Division 3A playoff win over Cabrillo. He was the third coach for the program in as many seasons.
Thompson did not return messages seeking comments. O’Connor said Thompson resigned from his position on his own terms.Ryan, who ended his tenure Monday, wrapped up his second season as the San Luis Obispo baseball head coach with one of the school’s best campaigns. The Tigers went 21-7 overall and 17-1 in the PAC 7.
San Luis Obispo’s season ended in the first round of the Division 2 playoffs with a 3-2 loss to Redlands.
Ryan said it was difficult to justify winning baseball games to losing money in his business, Power Plumbing Inc. He found himself taking business calls while he was coaching. It wasn’t fair to his players or his business, he said.
“I love coaching San Luis Obispo High School,” said Ryan, who spent two years as a Tigers assistant before becoming the head coach. “With the program, I have nothing but great memories with all of (the players) It’s better that I put in more effort at work. It’s all or nothing for me. I go 100 percent or nothing at all.”