Coaching a high school football program takes some wherewithal.
Coaching a prep program for nearly two decades requires patience, endurance, strength, passion, thick skin and a genuine love for the kids, as well as the game. That’s just to name a few essential characteristics.
Rob Kittrell embodied it all. After 19 years leading Sparks, Kittrell officially announced this week that this season was his last. He will remain the school’s athletic director.
“Looking back on it, I’ve had the best job you can have in America for 19 years as a head football coach,” Kittrell said. “Truly it’s been an honor. It’s the best job. Nothing I do from here on out will top what I’ve done the last 19 years.”
He saw it all throughout his tenure. He led the Railroaders to an 8-3 record and a state berth in 2006, and he navigated a multi-season losing streak.
Still, it’s not the wins or the losses that jump out, he said, but the connections established with players he molded.
“All the different kids and the relationships you built,” he reminisced. “When they come back and say ‘hi’ and say ‘thanks coach,’ that probably sticks out the most.”
Sparks’ now former coach decided early in this fall that he would step down following the season.
“I had reached my end. I was exhausted,” he said. “It was time to move on. I kind of made that decision early on in the year that this was going to be it. I just kind of enjoyed all the lasts. Last time to Elko. Last home game. Last game. And just tried to take it all in and enjoy it.”
The Sparks coaching staff was alerted of the decision following the team’s season-ending banquet on Monday. The team was made aware they would have a new coach in 2017 on Wednesday.
Telling the players was tougher than Kittrell anticipated.
“I thought I was prepared for that, but I wasn’t,” he said. “It really hit me. There were a lot of sad faces. That was tough to look at. But they’re resilient and they’ll bounce back. They’ll forget about me in a couple years … That was hard, because you do build a lot of relationships.”
Because he will remain the athletic director, Kittrell finds himself in a unique position. He will be responsible for hiring his successor.
“Emotionally, it’s going to be weird,” Kittrell said. “(I will) use my best professionalism as AD and put the emotional part to the side. Obviously, I want to get someone … that understands Sparks and will truly care about these kids. That’s my priority.”
As an era for Sparks football ends, so too does one for its former coach. He’s ready.
Said Kittrell: “I’m at peace.”