Arvada High School hired a new head football coach who has a vision for this team's success
KUSA – Arvada football: what comes to mind? Is it the Pomona Panthers? Or maybe even the Ralston Valley Mustangs? Or it could possibly be the Arvada West Wildcats. Either way, you probably don’t think of the Arvada Bulldogs. But now, maybe you should.
Arvada High School Athletic Director Justin Carpenter announced on the Arvada Athletics Twitter account Friday, Jan. 23 that the school hired a new head football coach: Richard Bortner. “We interviewed [Bortner] on Wednesday, and we’re very pleased to have him with us,” Carpenter said. “He’s a great addition to the staff, and town as a whole.”
But who is Coach Bortner? And why is he the one who’s going to dig the Bulldogs’ football program out of a rut? Because Arvada football is definitely in some trouble.
It’s been a long time since the Bulldogs had a winning season. The football program has seen four different coaches since 2005; all with losing records. John Hilton (’05-’07) had a 3-27 overall record. Kevin Clark (’08-’09) walked away from Arvada with a 2-18 overall record. Under Tom Baker (’10-’12), the Bulldogs claimed 7-23.
And the most recent coach Matt Cisneros resigned after going 1-19 in two seasons; ending 2014 without one victory (0-10). Aside from not winning any games last season, just about every one ended in a blow out. The Bulldogs didn’t even score a single point in six of the ten games.
“We play in a very tough league for 3A football,” Carpenter said (Class 3A Metro League). “We play tough schools every year, like Evergreen and Conifer. And Coach [Bortner] accepted that challenge and will prepare the players to accept that same challenge.”
Yes, Arvada has been through some heartbreak. But under the leadership of Bortner, Arvada as a town – not just a school – can have some faith. “He sold a vision to the school and the program – for where we’re going to go. And he outlaid a clear plan, a plan of how to get there,” Carpenter said.
This “vision” Carpenter is talking about is growth. A large part of Bortner’s plan for success is to set a high expectation: win a state championship. Obviously, this is every coach’s goal, but “success is not won overnight. Success is determined by growth, and the understanding that each passing day we don’t stay the same; we either gain ground or lose ground,” Bortner explained.
“We want to win a championship, but if we’re not getting better on a day-to-day basis, that goal will never be attained,” Bortner said. “And even if we are getting better and set a high expectation, we’ll at least land somewhere close. If we don’t meet the expectation, we’re still going to become better people because of the journey we’ve made.”
And Bortner has been on quite a journey of his own up until this brand new coaching gig – also his first crack as head coach. He understands the concept of change, and having to adapt.
Bortner grew up in Crestview, Fla., which is in the northwest panhandle. He was a four-year letterman and starting offensive lineman for Crestview High School, and the only starting junior the year his team was a state runner-up, finishing 13-1. He committed to Middle Tennessee State University to play football on a full athletic scholarship where his playing career was cut short due to a neck injury. Doctors told him he would have to give up playing football so he wouldn’t risk something more serious. It was at that point Bortner made the transition to the coaching realm of the football world.
From 2008-2009, Bortner worked as a student assistant offensive line coach, and the team went 5-7 and 10-3 respectively. In 2010, he made his way out to Colo. with his wife so she could start grad school at CU. Bortner got his first high school post in 2011 at Skyline High School under head coach Kevin Rice, starting off as the varsity defensive line coach.
The following year, Bortner became the varsity offensive line coach and the rest is history. “We had pretty good success that year as opposed to years before that,” Bortner said. The team finished at 5-5 with the most total yards of offense in recorded school history: 3,800 yards (improving from the previous season’s 2,700 yards).
Even greater success came in 2013 when Bortner teamed up with first year Hinkley head coach Jaron Cohen (now at Ponderosa). Cohen is recognized for his success that year – but it was Bortner who also helped lead Hinkley to its first 5A football state playoff berth in over a decade as the offensive coordinator. Although the team fell to Columbine 57-27 in the first round of state playoffs, Cohen said, “we had our best record there in almost fifteen years, and [Bortner] was a huge part of that.” Hinkley improved its points scored from 140 the prior season, to 278 – one of the largest increases in any program in any classification in the state of Colo. “We worked really closely as a team to get that school out of a rut,” Bortner said.
Bortner spent the summer 2014 season at Smoky Hill, until head coach Justin Hoffman was cut loose right before the season started. So Bortner scrambled to stay on staff somewhere and went back to Skyline to help volunteer and consult.
Bortner has spent time around some really respected coaches in the area. “He has a pedigree of successful programs and how to do things the right way,” Carpenter said.
But a resume only gets you so far. “He had to meet the kids too,” Carpenter said. “He gained instant credibility with a lot of them, and playing ball in college helps out.” Plus, Bortner has also picked up a few of Cohen’s coaching philosophies. “[Cohen’s] very intuitive when it comes to the students and athletes and stuff like that. He really showed me a lot about building relationships with the players, on the players’ level. And that has really rubbed off on me,” Bortner said.
It’s also the Arvada football players that initially attracted Bortner to the job as well. “Back when I was at Skyline, Summer of 2012, Arvada came up to Longmont, and we had a scrimmage. It was a hot day, and both sides were fighting hard. But at the end, the Arvada kids dropped their pads and wasted no time in coming over and shaking it up, telling everyone they did a great job. They were very respectful kids with great manners,” Bortner said.
And when Bortner saw the job opening at Arvada, he remembered that day – those players: “great sportsmanship, manners, and respect. I thought, ‘that’s not a bad place to be. I’d like to give that a shot,'” he explained.
Just as Bortner wants to coach those kids, they need someone as well to help them grow – the foundation of Bortner’s coaching philosophy. “Our kids have a deep desire to get better. They need a push – a push to do things we didn’t think were possible before. And they deserve that,” Carpenter said. “And [Bortner] is our guy.”
“We want people to think of Arvada High School when they hear ‘Arvada.’ We want to put our stamp on the city we own the name of,” Carpenter explained. “I think [Bortner’s] ready to take over his own program and turn Arvada around,” Cohen said. And Cohen is one man who dug Hinkley out of a rut – with Bortner by his side.
What we have here is a school that’s desperate for revival – something new and fresh to spark life into a dead football program. And Bortner may be the guy. “We solved the math of a new Hinkley: it wouldn’t be the old Hinkley, and we wouldn’t do things in the old way. If those things were working, we wouldn’t have been there,” Bortner explained. “And that’s what’s going on with Arvada. If the old things were working, we wouldn’t be here right now.”
Bortner had a large role in the rejuvenation of Hinkley football. And now he’s going to attempt to do the exact same thing with Arvada come the Fall. The only difference is, he’s just the main guy running the show now.