Queen Creek (Arizona) Casteel’s football team was on a bus on the way home from Cal Berkeley from a camp on June 11 when news started to leak on social media.
Spencer Stowers was leaving the school to make a move to Minnesota that he said would be more beneficial for his family with his wife’s new job.
The bus’ air-conditioning had gone out and the team had back-tracked to a truck stop to get it repaired.
That’s where Stowers took everybody off the bus, had them go under a tree and tell them the news.
At the same time, he introduced to the players their interim head coach: former Nebraska Cornhusker Bobby Newcombe.
“Stowers did a phenomenal job to let them know, ‘This is what’s happening,’ ” Newcombe said. “He originally wanted to tell them Tuesday. He had to go through some stuff.
“He wanted to let everybody know, ‘If this was solely about football and coaching you guys,’ he’d be staying here forever. But when you mix the family challenges, the dynamics in there, he has to make a hard decision.”
Stowers said goodbye to a program he began three years ago and led to a 14-0 3A state championship season last year that was ready to make the big move up to 5A this year with the school’s first senior class.
But Stowers knows he is leaving it in good hands.
He was the one who told Casteel administrators that Newcombe, a 38-year-old former Nebraska quarterback and wide receiver, should be his replacement. Newcombe, who teaches business marketing at Casteel, also will take over the Football Academy classes that Stowers ran.
“It was an easy choice,” Stowers said of Newcombe. “The players, community, and staff at Casteel respect him because of his passion and work ethic. He puts his students first.”
Newcombe came to Casteel last year as a wide receivers coach. His enthusiasm made an immediate impact.
He is the answer to this trivia question: Who was the Nebraska quarterback between current Nebraska head coach Scott Frost and Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch?
A freshman in 1997, when Nebraska shared the national title in Tom Osborne’s last season as coach, Newcombe became the starting quarterback his sophomore year, before relinquishing the job to Crouch the following season.
Newcombe moved to wide receiver and kick returner without complaint.
“I was an athlete,” he said. “Wherever they needed me to play, I would play. … As long as I was contributing to the team. Gosh, you’re playing in front of 80,000 people. It’s incredible. You don’t really understand the experience of it until you sit in that stadium. A life changer.”
Newcombe credits Osborne for his development in leading people.
After a short pro career (a sixth-round draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals) in the NFL and the Canadian Football League, Newcombe dug in with his education and obtained his doctorate’s in management and leadership.
“I thought the coach I had in college my first year, Tom Osborne, did a phenomenal job,” Newcombe said. “It was an amazing experience with Coach Osborne. I was amazed at his ability to manage people, maintain an organization, being consistent with his values, being a man of his word at that level with that many people. Like, ‘How do you do that?’ ”
“His attention to detail and ability to motivate will carry the Colts very far,” Stowers said. “With the support of a great coaching staff and an experienced senior class, the 2018 season will be a huge success on and off the field.
“From the first day I met him, he made me not only a better coach but an even better person.”
Newcombe is ready to take on this challenge. He just never thought it would come this soon.
It starts at home on Aug. 17 against defending 5A champion Peoria Centennial.
“I was very happy to coach with Coach Stowers,” Newcombe said. “That time to be a head coach, I was patient for it, not in a rush. So when he said he decided to move and you’re going to be the guy, I kind of smiled and chuckled at him.
“It’s humbling on many fronts. It’s humbling from the standpoint of knowing the magnitude and responsibility to be the coach and facilitate a program this size.”