Jason Caldarera says it's just coincidence that he is retiring as Service High's football coach on such a good note, just months after guiding the Cougars to their second state championship in four years.
"Not many people get a choice to leave on the top or to leave without controversy," Caldarera said Wednesday. "I'm doing this totally of my own free will."
After 19 years as a football coach for the school, the last 12 as the head coach, Caldarera is calling it quits as a coach but not as a teacher. He still teaches physical education and he'll remain the athletic director, a role that gives him a voice in the selection of Service's next coach -- and Caldarera said he's already used that voice to recommend Numi Ilalio, the team's offensive and defensive coordinator.
Caldarera and Ilalio have proved a potent coaching combination for the Cougars, who have advanced to the state title game in three of the last four seasons. Whoever takes over will inherit a program in excellent shape. All-state quarterback Amu Aukusitino, who led the Cougars to a 10-0-1 record as a junior this school year, leads a solid group of returning players.
"There's a great team coming back, there's a super parent group, there's money in the bank," Caldarera said.
Caldarera is only 40, but he's been part of Service football for more than half of his life, first as a player and then as a coach. He graduated from the school in 1989 and returned in 1993 as an assistant to Byron Wilson. He became head coach when Wilson stepped down after winning three straight state titles from 1997-99.
Caldarera said a number of things contributed to his decision to retire from coaching. He had to deal with a medical issue after the season -- he said he's fine now -- and he wants more time with his wife, Anna, and children Keaira (14), Kaden (11) and Kyan (6).
"I had some health issues in the fall and I had to put some things in perspective," he said. "My daughter was the starting quarterback in flag football at the end of the year and I realized how much I missed (seeing her play). I don't want to have that feeling anymore.
"The timing was essential. We need to name a new head coach soon and I certainly wanted to wait for my health issues to clear before rushing to a decision."
Asked how long he's been thinking about stepping down, Caldarera laughed.
"Every single year," he said. "It's not an easy job. Football's become this year-round thing, especially with fundraising, and it's been a challenge but a great reward.
"It's been a blessing to be part of Service football."
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.