The seniors on the 1967 Phoenix St. Mary’s football team get together every Christmas for a reunion. There used to be 12 of them. Now, there are eight.
“We’re starting to die off,” Jim Ewan said. “When we get together, I look across the table and think, ‘God, he looks old.’ “
Ewan will admit, with a self-deprecating laugh, that his teammates are probably looking at him and thinking the same thing.
Ewan turned 65 in February. Since retiring as Chandler High’s coach in 2010, he’s lived the good life. He’s gone fishing and dove hunting and played so much golf in the spring that, “I actually became a pretty good golfer.” He and his wife, LuAnn, moved to Yuma to be with their daughter and son-in-law. He still was involved with football — he was an assistant under Rhett Stallworth at Yuma Catholic — but he didn’t have to deal with administrators, raise funds or listen to complaining parents.
“I ran the weight room out in the back,” he said. “No one ever came around and checked on me.”
So why give that all up? Why come back to the Valley to become Mesa Westwood’s new coach? Why deal with the hassles and the 12-hour days and the Friday nights that can put a man in a dark place?
“There’s a flaw in my character,” said Ewan, who will begin spring practice with Westwood later this month. “I just wanted to be in charge again. I think I have some things to offer. I think I can help young coaches. I think I’m good for kids. I feel like I still have the energy to make one more good run, and I think Westwood is a good fit for me.”
But is Ewan a good fit for Westwood? When he resigned as Chandler’s coach he said he wasn’t willing to put the hours in to do the job right.
“I’ve been in a couple of programs where as assistants you feel like you’re working harder than the head coach, and I didn’t want to be that guy,” he said. “So I thought it might be time.”
Yet here he is, five years later and five years older, a head coach again. Sixty-five might be the new 55, but 65-year-old football coaches who also teach physical education during the day tend to feel their age — and bristle at all the demands expected of them off the field.
“Now, I’m back to dealing with all the administration stuff so we’ll see how long the fun lasts,” Ewan said. “Like my wife says, ‘I can’t wait for the first day you come home and say, ‘Why did I do this to myself?’ “
It just might work for Westwood and Ewan, though. For one thing, it’s easier to muster up energy when you can see the finish line. Ewan was exhausted after 11 years at Chandler and needed a break. His time at Westwood will be much shorter, although he said he’d like to coach into his 70s. Also, he’ll be a different coach. He had his fingerprints on everything at Chandler, but Stallworth taught him the value of delegating.
Ewan will implement some old-school beliefs at Westwood, both in terms of how it plays and how important football is at the school. He said Westwood will honor the legacy of former coach Jerry Loper by playing “physical, old-fashioned, hard-nosed football. That’s the kind of team I want.”
He’ll also tell kids they should play more than one sport. Ewan doesn’t like the fact football has become a year-round endeavor, and he wants to do his part, however small it might be, to change that.
“What I’m hoping to accomplish is to maybe bring the pendulum back a little bit,” he said. “I want to try to get back to where we truly, honestly as coaches encourage kids to play as many sports as they’re capable of playing. A lot of people won’t listen because of the competition pressure but I’m going to try for us at least here just to try to slow it down.”
It’s funny. Five years ago, Ewan couldn’t have imagined being a head coach again. Now, he can’t wait for spring football to begin.
“I just like being around kids and I really like being around football kids,” he said. “It’s kind of like a Fountain of Youth for me.”
Reach Bordow at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/sBordow
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