Guest Posts on County 10 are provided by contributors and the opinions, thoughts, and comments within are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of County 10.
When they win, it’s because of the great kids. When they lose, it’s always the coach. That’s just the nature of prep athletics. Most schools can’t recruit, I say most, but not all, since a little bit of that goes on in the cities and larger towns. Even in Wyoming, a town with two or three high schools, or schools less than 20 miles apart might have a few boys or girls drifting over to another program.
What is rarely discussed is how a coach can have tremendous success at one school but be an abysmal failure at another.
As my late friend Harold Bailey often said, “You don’t win the Kentucky Derby with a plow horse.”
Harold knew you had to have the ponies to make a run, and while plow horses have their place, it’s just not on the racetrack.
Looking back at Riverton High School’s football program over the last six decades a couple of things stand out. The first is that coaches don’t last very long, and the second is that the Wolverines have been much more competitive in Class 3-A than they were against the bigger schools from the east in AA, 4-A, or even 5-A, all classifications the Wolverines found themselves playing in during previous seasons.
There were many great Riverton teams that competed well against the likes of Natrona, Gillette, Kelly Walsh, Rock Springs, Sheridan, and the Cheyenne schools.
There are great arguments that the best teams in Riverton history were the 1972 and 1973 Wolverines who finished runner-up in AA, losing to Kelly Walsh and Laramie in the state title games under head coach Don Pomeroy.
Pomeroy coached for just four years in Rivercity. He started a trend. Before his arrival, Glenn Burgess coached the Wolverines for 11 years, but until Don Julian arrived in 1993, no one coached more than three consecutive years at Riverton High School after Pomeroy.
Local pundits often tell me off the record that you can lose in every other sport at Riverton, but you have to win in football and boys’ basketball to keep your job. There may be some merit to that statement.
Neil Melillo grew up in Newark, New Jersey. How he found a head coaching position in Riverton in 1978 is a mystery to me. Glancing at his 1-8 record in his only season with the Wolverines you’d guess he was a poor coach.
I wouldn’t go to the casino if you held that opinion. Yes, he won only one game, beating Lander, which in many ways constitutes a good season if you’re a Riverton fan. His Wolverines were in every game, aside from a 35-0 loss at 1978 AA state champion Rock Springs.
Melillo disappeared from Wyoming but found a home in Norton, Kansas, where he won 94 games and lost just 13, including a pair of state championships in 1985 and 86. He coached a perfect 13-0 season in 1985 and lost just one regular season game in 1986. He tallied 11-1 and 8-1 records in 1982 and 1990 and won his league title five times.
He left Norton to take an offensive coordinator position at a 6-A Texas High School.
What’s the story here? It’s giving a coach time to build a program. It’s like Head Coach Herman Boone’s statement in “Remember the Titans” when he’s describing his offense. “The veer is like Novocain; just give it time and it always works.”
The problem in some towns is the impatience and unrealistic demands of the fans who crowd board rooms, send anonymous letters, and as of late, bash coaches on social media.
From 1977 to 1981 Riverton had five different head coaches, a new man each season. Brent Engleright preceded Mellilo, Ken Boatwright followed him, and reached the state title game in 1979 playing against arguably the best high school team to ever take the field in Wyoming in the Division I laden Cheyenne Central Indians. Boatwright stayed just that season and was followed by Bob Miller and then Lee Smith.
A handful of coaches can find success in their first season, but not many. A notable exception is the legend from Cokeville, Todd Dayton, who led the Panthers from 1980 until 2021. Dayton won an amazing 20 state championships in that 41-year run and finished unbeaten 10 times. He had only one losing season, going 4-5 in 1985. During his entire career, he played schools with three to four times Cokeville’s enrollment and won despite the disparity.
New coaches dot the Fremont County landscape this season with Jim Burton leading the Lander Tigers and Mark Lenhardt coming up from Rock Springs to lead the Wolverines.
Both men will be contending with well-established Class 3-A programs. Jay Rhoades has been the Douglas head coach since 2005. Rob Hammond took over in Buffalo in 2012 and Matt McFadden enters his 10th season as Cody’s head coach.
Though these are long tenures in the modern era where parental intrusion is common, and administrative support rare, they pale in comparison to what Dayton accomplished in Cokeville.
There are still coaches who stay at one school for most or all of their careers. Currently, Southeast Goshen’s Mark Bullington begins his 24th season with the Cyclones. In his first year Southeast won the state title with a perfect 11-0 record. He’s added eight more championships in 9-man and 11-man.
Our own David Trembly leads a very talented group of Dubois Rams in a quest for his second state championship.
Trembly has been coaching football for 25 years in the High Country and is believed to be the only coach who has led a team in 6-man, 9-man, and 11-man football.
The season is upon us. Zero Week games arrive this Friday with jamborees and controlled scrimmages bringing teams to neutral sites on Friday and Saturday.
Despite the hoopla, it remains just a game.
Prominently displayed on my classroom wall at Shoshoni High School was this quote. “Sometimes it’s hard to watch a 16-year-old kid running down the floor with your paycheck in his mouth.”
That’s what coaches in every sport face, but few have the scrutiny that comes with football.
When everyone is an expert, because they watch it on TV, it’s sometimes hard to deal with the unreal expectations and overzealous, overestimation of the talent of the children of these experts.
Give the coaches a chance.