Granite Bay’s Ernie Cooper: State Coach of the Year

Granite Bay head coach Ernie Cooper raises the CIF Division I state bowl game trophy after his team rallied in the final two minutes to beat Long Beach Poly on Dec. 14 at The Home Depot Center. Photo by Scott Kurtz.

Granite Bay head coach Ernie Cooper raises the CIF Division I state bowl game trophy after his team rallied in the final two minutes to beat Long Beach Poly on Dec. 14 at The Home Depot Center. Photo by Scott Kurtz.

It’s the third time in the last five years that a coach from the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section has gained the state’s top overall coaching honor.

Written By Mark Tennis
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There are many trademarks of a great high school football program and at Granite Bay (located near Sacramento) these include the Fly offense, a passionate fan base and a head coach who for many years has never once turned in a preseason questionnaire with more than a handful of returning starters from the previous team.

Ernie Cooper is the man who has built the program at Granite Bay and some other facts are beginning to generate wide-ranging recognition: Back-to-back CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I titles, 10 league championships in 17 seasons, five overall section titles, three players in the NFL and, of course, the 2012 CIF Division I state bowl title.

Cooper can now add one more honor to the resume and that is being named today as the 2012 State Coach of the Year by Cal-Hi Sports. He is just the third coach from the Sacramento area to be placed on the all-time state list of honorees that dates back to 1896 (the other two are Ron Lancaster from Cordova of Rancho Cordova for 1978 and Mike Alberghini from Grant of Sacramento for 2008) although there are many more from the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section, including Mike Papadopolous of Vacaville just last year (a coach whose team has played Cooper’s club at Granite Bay many times in recent years).

This year’s matchup between Vacaville and Granite Bay resulted in a 47-21 win by Cooper’s team. The triumph, though, followed two losses in the annual Battle for Veterans event in back-to-back weekends to Southern California powerhouse programs Westlake of Westlake Village and Oaks Christian of Westlake Village. Granite Bay then fell to 1-3 after a 28-27 loss to Pittsburg.

After that defeat to Pittsburg, the Grizzlies began a remarkable turnaround with a win over Lincoln of Stockton. They never lost again, gaining momentum with a series of hard-fought wins against top opponents in the Sierra Foothill League (including Del Oro of Loomis, Nevada Union of Grass Valley and Rocklin) and then really getting into high gear in defense of their CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title.

When Granite Bay faced unbeaten and state-ranked Franklin of Elk Grove in the semifinals, it was like the Wildcats ran into a buzzsaw. The Grizzlies rolled to a 37-7 win, then took apart Oak Ridge of El Dorado Hills 35-23 in the final.

All of the early losses cost the team a shot at the CIF Northern California Open Division title (especially with SJS D2 champ Folsom being unbeaten), but getting into the NorCal Division I bowl game was a lock. St. Ignatius of San Francisco, fresh off winning the CIF Central Coast Section Open Division crown, was the opponent and just like against Franklin and Oak Ridge, the offense clicked early, the defense came out sticking and the San Franciscans ended up losing 45-17.

That win advanced Granite Bay to its first CIF state bowl game and a matchup against CIF Southern Section Pac-Five champion Long Beach Poly. Because of the way in which the Grizzlies were rolling and because CIF Sac-Joaquin teams such as Grant (took down an unbeaten Long Beach Poly team in 2008) and Rocklin (lost on a last-second field goal to Servite of Anaheim in 2009) had battled against CIFSS Pac-Five champions in recent years, most viewed the game as a tossup. We called it 21-20 in favor of the Jackrabbits, which was the right score but it was Granite Bay that got the win.

As another example of Cooper’s players executing in the clutch, they went down the field to score a touchdown after Long Beach Poly had grabbed a 20-14 lead with 3:47 left in the fourth quarter. This was an offense that had not scored a touchdown during the game at that point, but that didn’t matter. John Cooley’s touchdown on a four-yard run with 1:12 left followed by Colin Brown’s PAT kick ended up as the winning points.

“His passion gave inspiration to the entire team during the season,” said senior Austin Smith, a starter in the offensive line, when he was asked in an email about his head coach. “He has a keen attention to detail which has helped me focus on the importance of technique. He also is a true student of the game spending countless hours during the week breaking down film.”

Cooper began his coaching career at Aptos in Santa Cruz County. When he was an assistant at Aptos, one player he coached was Trent Dilfer, who later became a Super Bowl-winning quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens and now shines as an analyst for ESPN.

The move to start a new program at a new school is often an easy decision for many coaches, but Cooper said in a recent article in the Sacramento Bee (he was named the Bee’s Coach of the Year last week for the second straight season) that it wasn’t. Still, he eventually took the job to get things going at Granite Bay and the going has certainly been good.

In addition to his record of 155-43-1 with the Grizzlies since 1996, some of Cooper’s former players are beginning to make a mark as well. Receiver Sammie Stroughter already was in the NFL (he is playing this year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), but he’s now been joined by linebacker Miles Burris (Oakland Raiders) and receiver Devon Wylie (Kansas City Chiefs).

This also isn’t the first state coaching honor for Cooper. In 1999, when Granite Bay was still in its early years, he was selected as the Medium Schools State Coach of the Year.

Note: In recognizing Cooper, it’s also obviously important to list Granite Bay’s staff. According to the team’s web site, assistant coaches also deserving of accolades are Rob Awalt, Chet Dickson, Bill Hagman, Tim Harrington, Wayne Lebretch, Mike Lynch, John Roza, Steve Smith, Russ Towne, Mike Valentine and Billy White.

Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year
All-Time Honor Roll
(All selections by
(Based on research by the late Nelson Tennis, our founder, prior to 1979)

2012 — Ernie Cooper (Granite Bay) 13-3
2011 — Mike Papadopoulos (Vacaville) 13-1
2010 — Earl Hansen (Palo Alto) 14-0
2009 — Jim Benkert (Westlake, Westlake Village) 14-0
2008 — Mike Alberghini (Grant, Sacramento) 14-0
2007 — Ed Buller (Oak Grove, San Jose) 12-1
2006 — Bob McAllister (Carlsbad) 10-0-2
2005 — Harry Welch (Canyon, Canyon Country) 13-1
2004 — Matt Logan (Centennial, Corona) 13-1
2003 — Steve Grady (Loyola, Los Angeles) 11-3
2002 — Kevin Rooney (Notre Dame, Sherman Oaks) 14-0
2001 — Bob Johnson (Mission Viejo) 14-0
2000 — Jerry Jaso (Poly, Long Beach) 14-0
1999 — Mike Herrington (Hart, Newhall) 14-0
1998 — Randy Blankenship (Clovis West, Fresno) 12-1
1997 — John Beam (Skyline, Oakland) 12-0
1996 — Dave Silveira (Alhambra, Martinez) 13-0
1995 — Larry Welsh (Atascadero) 14-0
1994 — Bruce Rollinson (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) 14-0
1993 — John Barnes (Los Alamitos) 14-0
1992 — Mark Paredes (Bishop Amat, La Puente) 15-0
1991 — Herb Meyer (El Camino, Oceanside) 13-1
1990 — Pat Preston (Bakersfield) 13-0
1989 — Dick Bruich (Fontana) 14-0
1988 — Norm Dow (Live Oak, Morgan Hill) 11-0-1
1987 — Bennie Edens (Point Loma, San Diego) 13-0
1986 — Bob Ladouceur (De La Salle, Concord) 12-0
1985 — Charlie Wedemeyer (Los Gatos) 13-1
1984 — Tim Simons (Clovis) 12-0-1
1983 — Ron Calcagno (St. Francis, Mountain View) 13-0
1982 — Wayne Schneider (Tracy) 12-1
1981 — Marijon Ancich (St. Paul, Santa Fe Springs) 14-0
1980 — Bill Workman (Edison, Huntington Beach) 14-0
1979 — Ron Lancaster (Cordova, Rancho Cordova) 13-0
1978 — Jerry Deuker (Pinole Valley, Pinole) 11-1
1977 — Chris Ferragamo (Banning, Wilmington) 11-1-1
1976 — Benny Pierce (Saratoga) 13-0
1975 — Ed Lloyd (Cardinal Newman, Santa Rosa) 12-0
1974 — Dick Haines (Vista) 13-0
1973 — Dwayne DeSpain (Los Altos, Hacienda Heights) 12-0-1
1972 — Bob Hitchcock (Temple City) 13-0
1971 — Gene Vollnogle (Carson) 12-0
1970 — Jack Neumeier (Granada Hills) 11-1
1969 — Forrest Klein (Alameda) 9-0
1968 — Tom Burt (Los Altos) 9-0
1967 — Clare Van Hoorebeke (Anaheim) 12-1
1966 — Ernie Johnson (El Rancho, Pico Rivera) 13-0
1965 — Dick Coury (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) 12-0-1
1964 — John Hanna (Bellarmine, San Jose) 10-0
1963 — Paul Briggs (Bakersfield) 9-0
1962 — Bob Berry (Willow Glen, San Jose) 9-0
1961 — Joe Marvin (Sequoia, Redwood City) 9-0
1960 — Sam Cathcart (Santa Barbara) 11-1
1959 — Dave Levy (Long Beach Poly) 11-0
1958 — Paul Huebner (Banning, Wilmington) 11-0
1957 — Johnny Johnson (Oroville) 9-0
1956 — Dick Hill (Downey) 12-0-1
1955 — Duane Maley (San Diego) 11-0-1
1954 — Aaron Wade (Centennial, Compton) 10-1-1
1953 — Milt Axt (Poly, San Francisco) 10-0
1952 — Fred Moffett (Berkeley) 9-0
1951 — Hod Ray (Palo Alto) 8-0
1950 — Ernie Busch (Merced) 11-0
1949 — Bob Patterson (Vallejo) 10-0
1948 — Harry Edelson (Fremont, Los Angeles) 9-0-1
1947 — Jim Sutherland (Santa Monica) 12-0
1946 — George Hobbs (Alhambra) 12-0
1945 — Colon Kilby (Vallejo) 10-0
1944 – Bert LaBrucherie (Los Angeles) 7-0
1943 – Larry Siemering (Stockton) 10-0
1942 – Brick Johnson (Piedmont) 7-0
1941 – Roy Richert (Castlemont, Oakland) 5-0-1
1940 – Clarence Schutte (Santa Barbara) 9-1
1939 – Palmer Muhl (Woodland) 8-0
1938 – Ras Johnson (Galileo, San Francisco) 8-0-1
1937 – Jim Blewett (Manual Arts, Los Angeles) 8-0
1936 – Harlan Lee (Red Bluff) 7-0-1
1935 – Paul Hungerford (Poly, San Francisco) 9-0
1934 – Orian Landreth (Long Beach Poly, Long Beach) 12-1
1933 – Dick Arnett (Inglewood) 8-2-1
1932 – Harry Shipkey (Salinas) 11-0
1931 – Tex Oliver (Santa Ana) 13-0
1930 – John Price (Bonita, La Verne) 10-0

List continues back to 1896 in State Record Book & Almanac.

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  1. football fan
    Posted December 29, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    So, basically this is just an award for large school coaches, correct, because I don’t see any small school coaches who have won the award.

    • Posted January 1, 2013 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

      There’s a separate story on the small schools and medium schools winners. Sorry if that isn’t clear.

      • DLSDad
        Posted January 2, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

        What is not clear is …. Bob Ladouceur not being named coach of the year since 1986. It would be a shame to assume that he has D1 recruits ( The last couple of years is an exception ) stock piled on every team. Bottomline: The man deserves Coach of the Year honors more than once …

        • Posted January 2, 2013 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

          We just haven’t chosen anyone more than once for State Coach of the Year in any sport for more than 20 years. Obviously, if we were to break that tradition, he’d be the one to do it for. Maybe we would have done it if we knew it was his last season, too. No one knows as of now. It sure would be nice, though, for him to go out on top even with 399 and not 400 wins. I think they could maybe consider a co-coaching situation next season as one of transition with Lad getting credit for the first half of the season’s wins and then the incoming coach getting the second half. In a co-coaching situation, remember, it’s the school that decides which person gets the coaching win and not a record-keeper like us. All we know is that there is no half a win or half a loss for each.

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2 Trackbacks

  1. […] High grad Ernie Cooper of Granite Bay High was named the state coach of the year and Sacred Heart Prep’s Pete Lavorato was named the state’s small-school coach of the […]

  2. By California football updates on June 20, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    […] NorCal Coach Announces Retirement Ernie Cooper, our 2012 State Coach of the Year, announced his retirement earlier this month after 17 seasons at Granite Bay. The Grizzlies started […]

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