Lifestyle benefits of coaching high school football can outweigh prestige of college ranks

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lehi coach Ed Larson has a conversation with quarterback Cammon Cooper during the Pioneers' game against Olympus earlier this season.

Sky View High School coach Danilo Robinson’s heart raced as the official’s hands went up. Touchdown.

He stormed the field with his players, celebrating a walk-off score by Cole Stokes on a 1-yard fullback dive. The 99-yard scoring drive secured a 16-13 win at Mountain Crest two weeks ago.

“The thrill of competition — game day, game night — is the same feeling,” said first-year coach Danilo Robinson, who came to Sky View with mostly college coaching background. “Even Army/Navy is the same feeling I have for a game Friday night.”

Robinson is the most recent of at least six current Utah high school coaches who had a taste of coaching NCAA Division I football before leaving the college coaching ranks. In his first season as a high school coach, Robinson has led Sky View to an 8-0 record, making it one of just three teams in the state that’s still undefeated, joining Bingham and South Summit.

Plus now, as opposed to during Robinson’s travel-heavy college seasons, his 8- and 10-year-old children can rush out onto the field to congratulate him when the final whistle blows.

Robinson was the assistant head coach at Kentucky State under former Utah State University coach John L. Smith when the position at Sky View opened. Robinson had bounced around from job to job for years, including assistant coaching stints at Navy, Army, the University of Wyoming and Utah State.

The former USU defensive lineman got wind of the opportunity to return to Cache Valley through friends who still lived in Utah.

The move made sense. He wanted to find a place to settle down with his family. His children have lived in five different states during their young lives. Returning to Utah meant creating a home in a place where Robinson and his wife already had built a community.

But first he wanted to talk to Smith, who had coached him in college and who he followed to Kentucky.

“Once he said it would be a good opportunity and he said he thought I’d do a good job,” Robinson said, “it kind of gave me the confidence [to think] I’d do well. That’s how much of an influence he is on me.”

(Maddie Lee | The Salt Lake Tribune) Danilo Robinson, Sky View coach.

Many college-assistants-turned-high-school-coaches decide to make the switch because of the lifestyle change that goes with it.

“I still love that level of football,” Weber High coach Matt Hammer said. “I love the atmosphere when you walk into a college stadium. I love the work. I love the grind of the season. … But [coaching high school football] is a much better situation on my wife, a much better situation for my kids.”

Hammer is in his fifth year coaching the Warriors. He spent six seasons at Weber State, working his way up from graduate assistant in 2006 to assistant head coach/offensive coordinator.

“I’m able to go watch my kid play football on Saturdays in the fall or soccer,” he said. “This job’s still demanding, but it gives me a lot more freedom to be a dad.”

(Scott Sommerdorf | Tribune File Photo) Weber head coach Matt Hammer, center, congratulates the offense as they come off the field after Weber scored to take an early 7-0 lead at West, Friday, August 23, 2013. Weber won 27-7 and snapped a 23-game losing streak.

Lehi High coach Ed Larson still enjoys poking fun at college coaches who come to town for recruiting.

“You’re going back to a hotel, and I’m going home to my wife,” he says to them.

Larson made several jumps between high school and college jobs throughout his career. His lengthy resume includes stops at the University of New Mexico, BYU, Southern Utah and Weber State.

Larson’s final switch back to coaching high school football, however, had a lot to do with financial stability.

Lower division colleges often struggle to pay their assistant coaches well. Larson said he had to work multiple jobs while at Dixie State.

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lehi head coach Ed Larson during first half play. Lehi led Olympus 26-0 late in the second half, Friday, September 22, 2017.

Robinson, too, moved between the college and high school ranks a couple times. His coaching position at Sky View was technically the second he held. However, in the first, he left before his team ever played a game.

That was in 2002 at Northview High School in California. He coached linemen for a year before being promoted to head coach for the following season. But before the season started, Robinson took at job coaching linebackers at University of Louisiana at Monroe.

Aside from that year and a stint as the linebackers coach at Sky View in 2009, the rest of Robinson’s 20-year coaching career was at the college level. And so far it’s seemed to translate well.

“It’s really good to have a coach who really knows what they’re doing, especially defensively,” Sky View quarterback Jackson Siddoway said. “And as a head coach he just pushes us, which makes us better.”

Robinson runs Sky View practice much like he would a college practice—complete with a large clock running in the stands and speakers bumping.

“That’s the only way I know how to do it really,” he said.

Of course, he’s had to adjust to time and ability constraints. Robinson also has found extra reward in teaching his players lessons they can apply outside of football and getting to know their families.

He won’t rule out eventually returning to the college coaching ranks, but he’s happy at Sky View and focused on the building something special there.

“I’ll get the opportunity to hopefully coach my son and/or teach my son and daughter in class,” he said. “So we’re looking forward to that. We want them to kind of grow up here and be a part of this community for a while.”