Football: Scott steps down after 20 years

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By Mike Cote

It was hardly the first time he’d talked about it, but it was the one and only time he actually did it.

Longtime Los Alamos Hilltopper head football coach Bob Scott officially announced his retirement last month, wrapping up a 20-year head coaching career. Scott turned his letter of resignation into the Los Alamos High School athletic office Nov. 12, just days after wrapping up his 20th season.

After 30 straight seasons of calling plays and blowing whistles, Scott said enough was enough.

“Really, I’m tired,” Scott said. “I haven’t had a summer off in 30 years.”

Scott, who took over the program for Marty Albert following the 1989 season, said he’s getting close to retirement as a PE teacher at Los Alamos High School and needed the extra time to reconnect with his family.

Scott’s daughter recently gave birth and he spent the Thanksgiving week in California to visit and check to see how the new member of the family was doing.

“I could go out to California right now with my daughter and spend a month,” he said. “Eight days wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg.”

Los Alamos finished the 2009 season Nov. 6, beating Capital in its season finale 35-18. While the team finished with a 4-6 record, having won three of its last five outings, it missed the Class AAAA playoffs for the first time since 2004.

Scott said that while he was disappointed with not getting into the playoffs his final season as head coach, he was glad to have gone out on a winning note.

Los Alamos’ victory was the 124th of Scott’s career against 97 losses. He is the winningest football coach in school history and was the fourth-winning active coach in New Mexico prior to hanging up the whistle.

Scott said he realized how important it was to win the final game of his career – topping a former player of his, Steve Castille, who is now coaching Capital – after talking recently to new Los Alamos Public Schools superintendent Gene Schmidt. Schmidt, who coached basketball in Washington state, actually lost his final coaching appearance and told Scott that the loss still sticks in his craw to this day.

The Hilltoppers struggled with injuries in 2009 to their offensive line, rarely having two games in a row with the same personnel in the same spots.

Despite the rough season, Los Alamos just missed out on a fifth consecutive playoff appearance. Had it beat Bernalillo in an Oct. 23 away contest, it would’ve claimed its fourth district title in five seasons.

In a game that was built up as the single most important the Bernalillo Spartans had ever played, the Spartans escaped with a 14-0 victory.

Prior to that game, Scott announced to his team that 2009 would be his last season.

“During the pregame meeting, I brought all the seniors up and told everybody this would be all of our last seasons,” Scott said. “Everyone was like, ‘what?’ I told them, yeah, I was retiring after this season.”

Scott had mulled the possibility of retirement several times and nearly did so following a grim 2002 season, but could never bring himself to turn in his resignation letter until now.

Former assistant coach Steve Cocking, after hearing of Scott’s retirement, called not long after and asked if anything had happened to make Scott finally step down. In 2001, Cocking resigned as manager of the Hilltopper baseball team despite the program posting some of its best seasons with him in charge, citing a lack of support from LAHS administration as a primary reason.

“I told him that nothing had happened,” Scott said. “I pretty much just knew in the summertime I was going to be done. My wife (Sheri) and I talked extensively. I talked to (assistant coaches) Pat (Brousseau), Don (Reid), Paul (Anderson) and Garrett (Williams) that I was getting worn down.”

Scott said he plans to stay on for one more year as a LAHS PE teacher before he steps down from that post as well.

Growing pains

Prior to taking the job as a LAHS assistant coach in 1986, Scott had been a head coach at Rushville, Neb., for four seasons. Rushville was a small school but had plenty of big farm boys, possibly with aspirations of one day being Cornhuskers with the University of Nebraska, to choose from.

Scott said he knew within a few hours of the start of his assistant coaching stint under Albert that he wasn’t in Nebraska anymore. Most of the athletes around the program were small and had limited prior football experience, something that he’d never encountered previously. Workouts, particularly summer workouts, weren’t anything near what he was accustomed to.

The game results weren’t much better.

After a 0-10 1989 season, a season in which Los Alamos being even competitive with the schools it faced was a rarity, there was virtually no place for the Hilltopper program to go but up.

To find success as a head coach, he said, he would have to change that and do it soon.

Before his first season as coach, Scott implemented an offseason workout regiment.

Although Scott’s first year record-wise wasn’t much of an improvement over the prior season, he felt the program was starting to turn itself around.

Los Alamos finished 1990 with a record of just 1-10, its lone victory a win over Kirtland Central, but its district games were more competitive than any Hilltopper fans had seen in several seasons.

By 1991, Los Alamos was back to respectable form. Behind quarterback Barry Keiss, Los Alamos made its presence felt early in the season.

Los Alamos traveled in early October to play Bloomfield, one of the top-ranked schools in AAA. Los Alamos was the Bloomfield Bobcats’ homecoming opponent.

But, in what was arguably their finest hour in the first three years of Scott’s tenure at Los Alamos, the Hilltoppers stunned the Bobcats 13-7.

While the Hilltoppers finished the season with a record of 7-4, they would miss the state playoffs by a lone game. They would miss out again in 1992 by one game, losing a 13-7 decision at home against Taos which would ultimately drop them to third place in the district standings.

The postseason

Los Alamos would get its first playoff bid for Scott in his fifth season as head coach. Los Alamos finished as the 1994 District 2AAA runner-up and advance to the first round to play Kirtland Central.

Kirtland Central’s Broncos held a bit of a grudge against the Hilltoppers. Due to a freak rainstorm which virtually flooded Sullivan Field, that Friday night’s game was scrubbed. Instead, the game was moved to Saturday and would be played at Los Alamos Middle School.

“Coach (Bill) Cawood was mad,” Scott said of the postponement, which meant Cawood’s team would have to stay the night in Los Alamos when it had not been prepared to do so. Los Alamos won the regular season game 19-0.

To add insult to injury, Los Alamos won the coin toss to decide where the playoff game would be played. Kirtland Central ultimately came up on the short end of Scott’s first playoff victory, as Los Alamos beat the visiting Broncos 19-7 before falling in the quarterfinal round the next week.

In 1995, with the help of marquee players such as Ian Christian, Matt Cocking and Jason Christoperson, Los Alamos won its first district championship under Scott, posting a perfect 10-0 regular season record.

The district championship celebration would be short-lived, however, as the Hilltoppers were upset in the first round of the playoffs by unheralded Hot Springs. Late in the fourth quarter, Hot Springs intercepted a pass and ran it back for a touchdown to take a 24-17 victory at Sullivan Field.

It would take Los Alamos 10 years to win another district championship, this time in 2AAAA. Los Alamos would lose in the first round of the 2005 playoffs.

Just days before the Hilltoppers’ 2005 opening playoff game against Belen, Scott’s mother passed away.

The closest Scott would come during his tenure to a state championship was the following season. After an undefeated regular season, Los Alamos topped Aztec in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs.

That game, one of the most exciting ever played at Sullivan Field, went in the Hilltoppers’ favor. After seemingly putting together a comfortable lead, the high-powered Aztec offense scored a touchdown with time winding down in regulation to get within 28-27. The ensuing point-after kick, however, was mishandled and ended up well short of the goalpost.

The following week, Los Alamos hosted the Artesia Bulldogs. The Bulldogs are one of the most celebrated prep teams in the history of New Mexico football.

Artesia and Los Alamos had never played before in school history. Los Alamos won the coin toss to determine where the game would be played — until recently, the playoff rule was that the team which had hosted the most recent meeting would have to travel, regardless of when that meeting was.

Scott said the semifinal with Artesia was one of the most important sporting events Los Alamos had ever hosted.

“It was really good for us,” Scott said. “It was good for the school and it was good for the town. I’d always wanted to play them, but I’d always wanted to play them in a playoff situation.”

The Hilltopper defense, spearheaded by lineman Nels Webber, kept All-American quarterback Landry Jones — now the starting quarterback for the University of Oklahoma — scrambling for much of the game, but Jones and the Bulldog offense made the plays when they needed to, giving the Bulldogs a 34-15 victory.

Los Alamos finished second in 2AAAA in 2007, though it was heavily favored to win at the beginning of the season, then was promptly trounced by the Moriarty Pintos in the first round of the playoffs.

The Hilltoppers got a measure of revenge in the 2008 playoffs, following the team’s third district title in four years. The Hilltoppers knocked off the Pintos 37-0 in the first round of the playoffs before falling to Aztec, another high-powered offense, in the quarterfinals a week later.

Scott said he was bummed that he never got a chance to coach in a state title game.

“I regret never having won a state championship,” he said. “But I guess not everyone gets that chance…That would’ve been nice, but we did the best we could do.”

Moving on

Scott said he’s not without plenty to do in his retirement.

When he does step down from his PE teaching job, he said he’s got plenty of home improvement projects to keep him busy. If that isn’t enough, he said, he’ll find a part-time job just to keep busy.

But he doesn’t have any plans to stray too far from home.

“LA’s been pretty dang good to me,” he said. “I’m not leaving Los Alamos and my wife’s sure not leaving it.”

When his replacement is found — the position has already attracted several applicants, both from in-state and out-of-state — Scott said he’ll keep his distance but would offer advice should the new coach ask for it.

Scott said the best part of his 20 years was watching the boys he supervised turn into men.

“We’ve been through some great kids since I’ve been here,” he said. “To try and go through and pick out every kid is almost impossible. I tried to do that once and I couldn’t do it. But it’s been fun to watch them grow up.”