A year ago, Charlie Ragle was coaching at Arizona State University learning more about football than he ever thought possible from Dirk Koetter and his staff, many of whom are today coaching in the National Football League.
As we all know, life dramatically changed for that entire ASU staff as the Sun Devils' season spiraled from great promise to unanticipated failure. Ragle, a graduate assistant, got a quick lesson on the business side of the game. He also got a quick reminder on the importance that family – the larger definition of the word – plays in his life.
It is that emphasis on family that
brought Ragle back to
Ragle is proud to have been selected to build upon that tradition and take it to an even higher level. After the demise of Koetter and his staff at ASU, Ragle, 31, had plenty of opportunities to continue in the college game. But he remembered what was most important to him and he reflected on the values imparted to him by his late father, a Phelps Dodge Executive and a man to be forever remembered, who succumbed to cancer eight years ago.
"My brothers and my Mom are here in
It would be remiss not to point out
that Ragle's family – including the people at Chaparral who have so embraced him
– is growing, as well, on the most personal level. Ragle and his wife Carrie (a
former teacher at Chaparral) were blessed July 2 by the birth of their first
child, a girl, Caylee Linae. Ragle is 100 percent dedicated to his job as the
football coach at
"This is where I want to be at this time in my life," says Ragle. "I am grateful for my time at ASU and I learned so much. It was graduate school for me. But I am here now, and it is for the long haul. We see an opportunity for something special."
It is ironic what – or perhaps more
aptly, who – brought Ragle back to Chaparral. Last October, as ASU's season
crumbled, Ragle received a visit at home from his football brother and best
friend Dave Huffhine. The two had come to Chaparral together in 2004 after
Together, they helped the Firebirds mount a memorable season in 2005 that ended with a heartbreaking 9-6 semifinal loss to eventual state champion Cactus. Even today, they view it as an opportunity lost. Ragle moved on to bigger things, and Huffine stayed and was viewed as Estabrook's eventual successor.
But on that October visit, Huffine not only encouraged Ragle to return, he told his friend that he should return and take over from Estabrook, who was widely expected to retire after last season.
"We always had talked about the program that we would like to create together," says Huffine. "The more we discussed his situation at ASU, the more I realized that while he was getting his PhD in coaching football, he did not seem as happy as he had been coaching in high school.
"Charlie has the ideal attributes of a head coach. I love running the offense and getting into the details of the game. It was easy for me to encourage him to return, and it was clear it was something he wanted to do. And when you can do this with the people you care most about, I can't think of a better situation."
Ragle has worked hard to become a man who inspires such confidence in Huffine and others. He is fiery by nature and has a gift for motivating young men searching for themselves on and off the field. He challenges his young players and builds within them confidence and strength of character that pay dividends on and off the field. These are attributes he learned from his own father growing up in Playas NM, a Phelps Dodge town in the southwestern part of the state that no longer exists.
From there it was on to
"My playing experience enabled me to understand the best ways to stop an offense," says Ragle.
He and Huffine made the move to Chaparral because they recognized the chance for sustained excellence that is not possible in very many places. But they also saw a place that could benefit from their expertise, passion and leadership.
It's important also to point out
here that it's not just Ragle, who has a job now at Chaparral counseling
students, and Huffine, who doubles as a social studies teacher. They have been
joined by their other soulmate from
The three of them – all about the same age – with holdovers like defensive coordinator Mike Angelone and newcomers Conrad Hamilton (defensive backs) and Rod Humenuik (offensive line), both with substantial NFL experience, give Chaparral the kind of leadership that can mold this year's unusually talented group into a team that should be among the favorites to win the Class 4A state championship.
It has been awhile since that has happened at Chaparral. No students who experienced the 2003 title are left at the school. These Firebirds have just heard about it or perhaps were lucky enough to watch as wide-eyed youngsters. Now, it is up to them to take the Firebirds past the semifinals, where they have lost for three of the past four seasons. Ragle is driven to put things together, while keeping the perspective of the long and fruitful years that await him, Huffine and Isenberg in the seasons ahead.
"We are in this for the long-term," says Ragle. "Nothing would be better than to get off to a great start right away. Our expectations are high. If a few things fall into place, I have to like our chances a lot."
As long as Ragle and his "family" are at the helm, it will be hard ever to overlook Chaparral's chances. Despite the success of the last decade that in 1995 seemed unimaginable, it is impossible not to believe that Chaparral's best days on the football field are yet to come.
-- Jim McDonald