Brian Baer / Special to The Bee

Brian Baer Special to The Bee Ernie Cooper was reluctant to move to the Sacramento area in 1995 to take the football coaching job at Granite Bay High School. Now he's a state titlist.

All-Metro football: Granite Bay's Cooper is Coach of the Year

Published: Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012 - 6:08 pm

Ernie Cooper has built one of the area's top football programs in his 17 years as Granite Bay High School's only coach.

The Grizzlies have won 10 league and five Sac-Joaquin Section championships.

After a 1-3 start this season, Granite Bay won 12 straight games, capped by a 21-20 victory over Long Beach Poly in Friday's CIF State Bowl Division I championship in Carson.

Observers marveled at Granite Bay's game planning and execution against a more athletic rival, reinforcing on a bigger stage Cooper's abilities as a coach, teacher and leader.

So it may come as a surprise that The Bee's Coach of the Year for the second consecutive year wasn't enamored of the Sacramento area when he was asked to interview for the Granite Bay job in the winter of 1995 by then-principal Ron Severson.

Severson had gotten to know Cooper at Aptos High, where he was the principal and Cooper was a teacher and defensive coordinator at his alma mater.

"I knew it was a dream for Ron to be opening a new school," Cooper, 51, said. "But when he called and said the head coaching job was open, I'm thinking to myself, 'I'm not moving to Sacramento. Why would I want to leave Aptos, it's one of the greatest places in the world?' "

Cooper's initial reservations were reinforced when he toured the area with Jess Borjon, who had coached football with Cooper at Aptos and was working at Woodcreek High School (Borjon is now Woodcreek's principal).

"I just remember it was a dreary, foggy, wet January day," Cooper said. "It was bone-chilling cold. I went home that night and told my wife (Carol), 'I will never move there.' "

But when Borjon's wife, Laura, took Carol on a tour of the Sacramento area's finer neighborhoods a week later, Cooper felt the pressure.

"Laura takes her around to all the neat housing areas in Rocklin and Granite Bay," Cooper said. "Carol kept saying, 'This is beautiful.' She loved it."

So Cooper interviewed, was offered the job and accepted.

"My juices were flowing, and at that point I told myself, 'I want to do this.' "

But Carol balked when Cooper delivered the news.

"The first thing she says is, 'I don't want to go!' " Cooper said. "I say, 'But I just went up and interviewed because you wanted me to take it!' "

Cooper grew up in Santa Cruz County and still calls himself a beach bum, so he was homesick during that first summer in Granite Bay.

"I loved the kids, and they could tell I loved football, but I was miserable," Cooper said. "We had like 17 days of 100-degree heat, and I'm telling myself I'm never going to make it through this."

He also missed Carol, who continued to work in Santa Cruz for several months after he moved.

"She would come up on weekends for the games, but I was bouncing from house to house and room to room because we couldn't afford to be paying two mortgages," he said.

Cooper eventually acclimated and now feels blessed to be living in Roseville and working at one of the premier high schools in the state. He turned down a chance to return to Aptos and coach football in 2010.

"If you want to teach and coach in a public school, there is no better area than right here," Cooper said.

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