Soccer coaching changes at Newman

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Whether you’re talking about Manchester United or prep soccer, coaching changes can be touchy affairs, undermined by bad feelings, backstabbing and mutual accusations.

Cardinal Newman boys soccer coach Paul Dixon will coach the school's girls team next season. Press Democrat file photo, 2007

Cardinal Newman High may have set the standard for classy transitions Tuesday, during a hastily arranged gathering at the Newman gym. The outgoing coach was in attendance, and had nothing but encouraging words to offer. Another coach is moving from the boys’ side to the girls’, in part to help the restructuring school. And the new coach comes highly endorsed by the others.

If the soccer teams are any indication, Cardinal Newman’s absorption of Ursuline High will be as smooth as a field of artificial turf.

“My intention is to see the Cardinal Newman soccer programs cooperate and be supportive of one another,” principal Graeme Rutherford told members of the boys’ and girls’ teams, who sat in bleachers as the Ursuline basketball team warmed up before practice.

The moves go like this: John Gilson, who spent 11 years coaching the Ursuline girls, is stepping down to spend more time with his family. Taking his place — and officially becoming the first Cardinal Newman girls’ soccer coach — is Paul Dixon, who guided the Newman boys for the past nine seasons. Filling Dixon’s shoes is Santa Rosa native and long-time coach Alan Ramos.

Ursuline grad Catherine Sigler will coach the Cardinal Newman girls’ JV team.

Gilson leaves with a sterling reputation in the North Bay League.

“It was always fun playing against him, because you knew his teams would play hard but play fair,” said Montgomery girls’ coach Pat McDonald, who had Gilson as one of his goalie coaches when he played at Monty. “He did a great job at Ursuline.”

Gilson, who works as a detective with the Rohnert Park Public Safety Department and has a 12-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy, had been thinking of stepping down for months, but wanted to do it under the right circumstances.

Strangely, Ursuline’s decision to close its doors helped provide that environment.

Shortly after Ursuline’s surprise announcement in November, Cardinal Newman confirmed that it would become a coeducational school and would accept any Ursuline student who applied for enrollment. The Newman administration subsequently suggested that the Ursuline athletic teams would survive intact under the Cardinals banner.

Rutherford and Gilson saw the transition as an opportunity for the coach to walk away. And Rutherford felt the greatest gift he could give to the new girls’ program would be Dixon, who guided the Cardinals to four North Coast Section championships and an undefeated season in 2004.

Gilson agreed.

“I wanted to leave the program in good condition,” he told the girls. “I’m very comfortable handing the program to Paul Dixon.”

After considering several candidates for boys’ coach, Cardinal Newman settled on Ramos — a choice that Dixon heartily encouraged.

Ramos coaches the Santa Rosa United under-15 boys’ team, and he coached the Roseland Prep boys last fall. He had previous stops with the Sonoma County Sol (2008-2010), Sonoma County Alliance (2006-09), Arcata High (2003-04) and the Ziemer Brothers’ soccer camp (2003-04). Ramos graduated from Santa Rosa High and played at SRJC in the mid-1980s before an injury sidetracked his career.

He leaped at the chance to join the Cardinals.

“When I found out it was Cardinal Newman, I knew it had a great soccer tradition,” Ramos said. “It didn’t take long to know this was a great opportunity.”

At Newman, Ramos takes over a program that took a middling 9-7-6 record into the 2010 NCS playoffs but advanced to the championship game on the strength of its defensive play — Dixon’s calling card.

Ursuline went 13-5-1 last season and lost to Santa Rosa on penalty kicks in the NCS quarterfinal round.

Dixon doesn’t foresee any problems making the switch. He has spent nearly as much time coaching girls as boys.

“Regarding my philosophy of training and the way I approach the game, there’s no difference,” he said. “The girls will be training just as hard as the boys, and hopefully they’ll bring the same attitude.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com