When you lose an exceptional, likable and highly qualified coach who took his squad to the highest level any Coast Union High School football team had reached in more than 30 years — the CIF championship game — that departure is a psychological and strategic jolt to the program.
When a head coach who is also an offensive mastermind with over 30 years of experience — who is revered, respected, and for whom players gave their all in practice and in games — decides to take time away from coaching, it leaves a void that no doubt will not be easy to fill.
That is what Coast Union and the Cambria community are facing now that Head Coach Charlie Casale has stepped down. Casale’s Broncos ended the season 11-2, a terrific record notwithstanding the blowout they endured in the championship game.
Meanwhile, Casale met with this reporter on the top deck at the Coffee Den on Jan. 13 to discuss the season, his reasons for stepping aside and his plans, which include traveling with his wife and watching his grandsons (6 and 9 years of age) play football.
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Between sips of a mango smoothie, a relaxed, smiling Casale said, “I didn’t take this coaching job as a long-term assignment. I took it because of the kids that are seniors today that I started with when they were sophomores.”Casale served as assistant coach and offensive coordinator when today’s seniors were in their second year. “It was really important for me to see that senior group through,” he said.
“I felt a commitment to those kids. Several of them came to my real estate office at the end of the 2012 season and asked me to be their head coach; that really solidified it. If it meant that much to them, I was going to be their coach.”
Among that group of players was Tommy Howard, whose mother Jane explained that by agreeing to be head coach, Casale “gave Tommy the tools to be a good football player and so much more. How to be a good citizen. We’re so grateful to him.
“The boys are so lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from Charlie. How to treat other human beings. He took Tommy, a tall kid who had never played football, and taught him how to be a good receiver. We’re really grateful that our son and all the boys had a chance to learn under him. It was precious. We know how lucky we all are to know Charlie.”
Another junior who went to Casale’s real estate office in the West Village after the 2012 season to coax him to become the head coach was Grant Magnuson. His mother, Kate, expressed her thoughts on the coach: “I know those kids wouldn’t have gotten as far as they did without a leader like Charlie. After he told Grant and the kids that he would come back as head coach, I went over to his house that day. He already had a book of football plays out and was studying it.
“He believes in the players wholeheartedly. They felt that, they knew that. And every kid on that team, even the freshmen who didn’t play much, knew they were important.”
Steve Spisak, who was part of the broadcast team that covered the games on KTEA-FM, said the Broncos “never would have gotten anywhere near where they ended up this season without Charlie. He brought a level of competitiveness and camaraderie to these kids that I haven’t seen at this school for 10 years or more. I commend Charlie on the things that he did.”
Coast Union Athletic Director Bill Clough said Casale’s impact on the school and the players was “huge. He’s so respected. The kids liked him, the coach’s respected him. He’s easy to play for.” Clough served on Casale’s coaching staff, helping with administration details and working with the defense.
“He’s been doing this for a lot of years, and now he’s retired, he has grandkids and family,” Clough said, clearly supportive of the coach’s decision to step down. Casale was “a pleasure to work with. He’s very easy to work for and a very good communicator,” Clough added.
Senior receiver Emmany Godinez said his last season of Bronco football “wouldn’t have been the same without coach Casale.” As to the kind of coach Casale was during practice, Godinez explained, “He was never the kind of coach who would yell at us; he wanted us to motivate ourselves.” The sweetest moment for Godinez in the season was the game at Lucerne Valley, “the highest game we won. It was raining and freezing and muddy but nothing mattered, other than that we won.”
As to the reasons that the Broncos were dominated (74-22) in that championship game against Faith Baptist in Canoga Park, Casale said the week leading up to the Saturday game was Thanksgiving vacation and so the practices were at odd times. “Their routine was broken,” he explained.
At the Saturday afternoon game, “We couldn’t block and, more importantly, Angel (Avina) couldn’t throw — he had an injured shoulder. And Quinten (Raethke) had an injured ankle. Angel was responsible during the season for almost 5,000 yards and Quinten gained almost a thousand yards catching the ball during the season.”
Without those two, Coast Union was hamstrung.
Casale didn’t care to discuss a negative sidebar story to the embarrassing beating Coast took at Faith Baptist. Perhaps five or six Broncos, according to a number of sources, broke training by staying out most of the night before that crucial championship game and were not in the best shape to play a championship football game.
But, that aside, certainly Casale’s team had an incredibly successful season, and he reminded the reporter that there were some extraordinarily strong efforts in games that got the Broncos to the championship. In the game against Laguna Blanca, a team that beat Coast by two points earlier in the season, “we really played well,” Casale recalled, whipping them 47-20.
And in the third playoff game against Lucerne Valley, after a five-hour bus ride, “we played really very well (winning 48-22). But how many times can you get these kids up to that high level?
“I think I got the maximum out of our kids, and I feel good about that. We started with 29 varsity players and we ended with 29 players.”
At what point did he decide this would be his last year? “Early in the season I said I’m going to give this everything I have for this year, and I would decide in January if I’m going to go on.
“I was emotionally beat at the end of the season. I was drained. Those four playoff games required getting those kids up every week. How many times can you do that?”
The other pertinent question is, how often does a coach like Charlie Casale come along? He says he might come back, but “at the current time this is what I feel is best for me. The football program is on solid ground with a lot of good younger players. We spent a lot of time developing them for the future.”
As to the immediate future for Coast Union football, the Broncos won’t be playing the tough, challenging schools like Cate, Thacher, Laguna Blanca and Dunn, teams that Casale loved playing. CIF administrators decided the 2014 Coast Union team will play in the Coast Valley League (CVL), which means games against Maricopa, Valley Christian Academy and Coastal Christian.
Casale expressed deep disappointment that the football program he helped build will be relegated to the CVL. That’s not the reason he is stepping down, but he frankly stated playing those teams is indeed a giant step down from the level of competition the Broncos faced — and mostly vanquished — in 2013.