Padecky: Former Petaluma coach finds voice for others to heed

Former longtime Petaluma football coach Steve Ellison has passed on his knowledge as a coaching consultant for various high school and junior college programs. (Conner Jay / The Press Democrat)

Former longtime Petaluma football coach Steve Ellison has passed on his knowledge as a coaching consultant for various high school and junior college programs. (Conner Jay / The Press Democrat)


PETALUMA — The word “consultant” has a rather delicious, fill-in-the blank quality about it, and don’t we all wish we could become one? A consultant could go to the French Riviera three times a year to study effective sunscreens. Or he could have a keen mind, encyclopedic knowledge and a personality like a warm campfire. Yes, you want to cozy up to Steve Ellison and hear what he has to say.

“The (school) district should come and pay this man to sit down with every first-year coach and help him,” said Paul Cronin, head football coach at Cardinal Newman. “What he sees, how he says it, the man is remarkable. It’s never about Steve. It’s always about you and your team. There’s no ego there, there really isn’t. I’m telling my coaching friends in Bakersfield they need to get ahold of this guy.”

Newman is one of 10 high schools or junior college football programs that Ellison has observed and provided feedback as a paid consultant in a fledgling career than began a little more than two years ago. In 2006, Ellison retired as a U.S. history teacher at Petaluma High School after 39 years at the school. Three years later, he retired as the team’s football coach after 31 years and a 204-127-7 record.

The stress of game day preparation, Ellison didn’t miss it. The sleepless nights after a defeat, Ellison didn’t miss that, either. He was 65 then and the pace and the expectations of coaching high school football had only increased over the years. But what Ellison did like, what he pursued, in fact, was teaching. For the past six years, working in conjunction with Sonoma State’s education department, Ellison has been paid to observe and critique student-teachers, usually at Sonoma County high schools.

In 2010, Ray Calcagno, a good friend he had known for years and now coach at Mountain View High School, asked Ellison to design a game plan. Sure, Ellison said. He did and it was fun and that was the end of it. Later that year, the legendary coach at City College of San Francisco — George Rush, who has won outright or shared seven national junior college titles — asked Ellison for his advice on how to develop a defensive game plan to stop the triple-option offense. City College was about to play the College of San Mateo, a team befuddling everyone with that offense. City College won, 33-0, and Ellison was asked by Rush if he could come back every year to help his team.

“His value is immeasurable,” Rush said.

Steve, why don’t you turn this into a second career, Rush asked. This would be a change for Ellison. He has spent his life focusing on helping others, not himself. This would bring him out of his comfort zone, all right, but heck, a man can play only so much golf at Rooster Run. Ellison developed a website — — and printed business cards. He made sure every coach he contacted knew he would be only talking to coaches, not players.

“I wanted to make sure the kids knew who their coach was,” said Ellison, who has worked at El Molino, Casa Grande, Del Norte, Redwood and Newman, among others. “I didn’t want any confusion in the chain of command.”

No confusion, either, Ellison emphasized, about sharing what he learned. Would Ellison forward everything he saw and learned to his successor at Petaluma, Rick Krist? Krist had played quarterback for Ellison in the 1980s. The two men are very close.

“Though it never has been said directly to me,” Ellison said, 2 months shy of his 69th birthday, “I know some people would think I would tell Rick everything. First of all, that’s unethical. Second of all, I would break my promise not to do it, and I can’t do that. And third, Rick would never let me do it, anyway.”

In the course of establishing himself as a resource for coaches, Ellison has experienced four reactions.

“For some coaches,” he said, “I would shatter their ego.”

Ellison has never claimed to have invented the game or that he knows everything about it. Such altruism is not universally shared.

“Some coaches don’t have the money (to hire him),” he said.

Ellison’s fee is low but, nonetheless, money is money and it’s not falling from trees these days unless you are in the top 1 percent of American wage earners.

“Some people feel I’m too close to Petaluma (High School); I’m too close to the enemy,” he said.

Try to find someone who could accuse Ellison of being a scammer, a liar, insincere manipulator, a backstabber. I dare you.

“The coach is secure in himself and his program and wants some help,” Ellison said.

Ellison has spoken directly to coaching staffs, with comportment being high on his list.

“That old line Charles Barkley uses — ‘I’m not a role model’ — doesn’t work,” Ellison said. “I tell coaches that whether they like it or not, they are role models. I was at a sideline of a practice of a school I won’t mention and I heard f-bombs coming from the players and the coaches, those words going back and forth between them. I told the head coach later I heard about 50 of them. He said he was surprised. I told him he just got through using one.

“I tell coaches players are little sponges. Give them a week and they’ll imitate you perfectly. The mannerisms, the words, the attitudes, they’ll have it down pat. The huge majority of coaches get it, but at a couple schools some of the young coaches look up and say with their facial expressions: ‘Come on, Pops. What do you know about kids?’”

Ellison has attended football coaching clinics with high-profile NCAA coaches and found the experience lacking.

“They don’t want to reveal their secrets,” Ellison said. “So they just stand up there for an hour and tell a bunch of jokes.”

What coaches want to hear — ones motivated to help kids, not massage their egos — are ways to make practice more efficient, to communicate more clearly and concisely, to develop strategies, game plans and player skills. Learn and get better. Ellison always found that to be one of the most intriguing aspects of coaching. As the 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh says frequently, either you work to get better or you get worse. Coaching is not a static profession, like a lazy, longtime tenured professor repeating the same curriculum year after year.

“On game day, I get to sleep soundly that night, no matter what happens in the game,” Ellison said. “Sure, I would like the team I worked with to do well. But that’s not my job.”

He’s just a football consultant and if that sounds like a delicious, fill-in-the blank gig, it is for Ellison. In his own way, he goes to the French Riviera every week. Doing what you love has that effect on people.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or


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