Rich Ellerson is ready for his seventh season as head coach of the Cal Poly football team.
He is 41-27 in his previous six seasons and can’t remember a time in his life when he didn’t have the desire to coach and teach.
These days though, Ellerson is thinking only of the next practice, and as the season starts on Sept. 1 at Texas State, he will only be thinking of the upcoming game.
“I hope this is my last job and I can retire here,” Ellerson said. “I can’t imagine having more fun.”
In six seasons at Cal Poly, Ellerson has led the Mustangs to two Great West Football Conference championships, an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) playoff berth and 33 wins in the last 47 games.
With Ellerson’s defensively oriented coaching, a Cal Poly player has won the Buck Buchanan Award for the past three years. The award is presented to the nation’s top Division I-AA college football defensive player.
Linebacker Kyle Shotwell received the award in 2006. As a defensive end, Chris Gocong was the recipient in 2005, and linebacker Jordan Beck won in 2004.
Ellerson was named the Division I-AA Independents Coach of the Year in 2003 and a year later was named Great West Football Coach of the Year. In 2004 he was also named the American Football Coaches Association Region 5 Coach of the Year.
Despite his many accomplishments as a coach on the field, Ellerson said that his most significant achievement while at Cal Poly has been the creation of a team-building environment.
“We have a football culture here that breeds success on the field, in the classroom, and in the community,” Ellerson said.
Coaching the Mustangs has been different from the three years he spent as defensive coordinator at the University of Arizona from 1997 to 2000.
He attributed that difference to the maturity of the players he has coached at Cal Poly.
“The community and institution of this school attract quality students with a love of the game who are well-grounded,” Ellerson said.
Linebacker Mark Cordes is entering his fifth year in the football program. He said that having Ellerson as a coach has been a fun experience.
“He’ll take care of you and won’t run you into the ground. He knows you as a player and won’t do overkill at practice,” Cordes said. “I feel like he really knows what it takes to win and is a good coach because he cares about his players as individuals.”
Ellerson said that the greatest challenge of coaching at Cal Poly has been dealing with 100 men between the ages of 17 to 23 who go through difficult times.
In the past five to six years, Ellerson has only dealt with steroid use by one player. And although the budget for the Cal Poly football program is different from the budget that was available at University of Arizona, Ellerson said that the Mustangs have the necessary equipment and facilities to play the game.
“Football isn’t about mortars and bricks, it’s about flesh and blood,” Ellerson said. “If frills are important to players, then Cal Poly isn’t where they belong.”
Ellerson began his first season as Cal Poly’s 15th head football coach in 2001. Cal Poly was 6-5 that year, and had its first winning season since 1997.
Cal Poly made a 7-4 mark in 2003, and was ranked as high as No. 14 in national rankings midway through the season. The Mustangs made the playoffs but their season ended when Idaho State got a late 38-31 victory.
The 2004 Mustangs went 4-1 for the Big West Championship. They won their first seven games overall and ended the season with their most wins in seven years. The team was nationally ranked as high as No. 5 at one point during the season.
In 2005, Cal Poly finished 9-4 and went 6-0 at home. The first squad in 12 tries earned a spot in the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs and reached the quarterfinal round before falling at Texas State. The Mustangs won four of five games against Big Sky Conference schools, the most in school history.
Last year, the Mustangs finished 7-4 and placed third in the Great West Football Conference. They beat a Division I-A team for the second time in four years.
Ellerson has led the Mustangs to four consecutive winning campaigns and hopes to capture a fifth.
“This season a lot of players know where to go. This is an opportunity for us to take the game to another level; not a reason to relax,” Ellerson said.