Joe Davidson

Ernie Cooper returns as Granite Bay football coach after a year away

Ernie Cooper insists this bit of news isn't a big deal. He's returning as head football coach at Granite Bay High School, and it is in fact a big deal.

After a year off of the grind for the 2013 campaign to recharge and reassess matters, Cooper confirmed that he is back to guide a program he started as a new school in Placer County in the mid 1990s. Cooper quickly transformed the Grizzlies into a Sac-Joaquin Section super power on the foundation of strength and conditioning, the Fly offense and tough, tenacious defenses.

Under Cooper , the Grizzlies won 10 league championships and five section titles. The crowning achievement was in 2012 with a Sierra Foothill League championship, a NorCal Regional Division I title and a late drive to beat storied Long Beach Poly for the CIF State D-I banner. He was The Bee's 2012 Coach of the Year and the Cal-Hi Sports and MaxPreps state Coach of the Year.

Cooper, a man who knows only one frenetic and passionate speed, coached Granite Bay throughout last spring before deciding he needed to step away.

"I'm back, but it's not that big of a deal," Cooper said Friday afternoon. "People make it out to be bigger than it really is, but I'm just glad to be back. I was tired of coaching, to be honest with you.

"Last spring it hit me that I didn't want to do it any more. I'm not ashamed to say it. I needed a break. And then I caught the fever again with the players. We have a great thing here. We've been fortunate. We have great support and an administration that bends over backward to help us."

Daily interaction with players had Cooper thinking as far as last season that he would return.

"They're good kids, and they're fired up," Cooper said of his team. "They were like, 'if you're in coach, let's go. If not, get out of the way and let's get a new guy in here.'"

Cooper praised Skip Albano, an off-and-on Grizzlies assistant for years who assumed interim head coaching duties last fall, leading the program back to the postseason.

"Skip righted the ship, did a great job," Cooper said. "When I stepped away, that was quite a hurdle. I'm really impressed with what he and the staff did. I felt bad for the seniors. I let them down. We were coming off a state championship. They wanted to go and get another one, give it their best shot, and I stepped away."

Cooper said he spent time last fall with wife Carol and young daughter Miko, and he had adventures that wasn't afforded when he was coaching.

"I wasted the first month of the fall because I didn't know what to do," Cooper said in reflection. "I was wasted. I didn't do a thing. Then I said, 'Hey, I've got some free time.' My wife said I tried to squeeze in 30 years worth of things in three months since I'd been coaching nonstop for 30 years.

"I was starting to drive her crazy. So on a Tuesday, I'd go to a Kings game. On a Wednesday, I played golf. On a Thursday, I'd go to a Sacramento brew fest. On a Friday, I'd go watch another high school. On Sunday, I'd go to a Raiders game."

Now? No time for any of that. He's back in coaching. One speed. And it is a big deal.