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 that 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 San Francisco City College — 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. San Francisco City was about to play the College of San Mateo, a team befuddling everyone with that offense. San Francisco City 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 — footballcoachconsulting.com — 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 Notre, Redwood, 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," said Ellison, two 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."