Former Coach Rohloff remembered

By Marlys Good

“New season, new coach, new field,” were the facts recorded in a story written in September 1976 in the sports section of the Greybull Standard.

Taking over at the helm was Ed Rohloff. And the 1976 team? Do any of these names sound familiar? Quarterback Lee Clucas; fullback Bob Kennedy; right guard John Christopherson; left guard Brett DeWitt; right tackle Todd Werbelow; left tackle Ben Smith; center Wes Robertson; running back Chip Duggan; swingback Tim Schutte; ends DeWitt and Jim Martin; defensive halfbacks, Bob Hallcroft, Werbelow, Clucas.

Rohloff listed Paul Valasek, Steve Gaunke, Ed Craft, Tim Fosso and “several others he would be depending on.”

The lone senior starter was Kennedy; only two other seniors, Mike Ledford and David French, were on the roster.

Rohloff’s assistants were Jerry Loader and Greg Shoemaker.

Gleaning from Greybull Standard archives, we learned that Greybull’s football program had been on the downswing for several years. The Buffs hadn’t beaten Lovell in 13 tries, and Rohloff’s debut in 1976 was with Lovell and the result was a 14th loss to the Bulldogs.

The Buffs lost their first three games before registering a win, and ended the season 4-4. But the foundation for 1977-78’s winning season had been laid.

In 1977 the Buffs ran the table – until Homecoming when the Evanston Red Devils came to town and upended Greybull 12-6 in overtime, ending a six-game winning steak. The loss also was the key to losing a bid for the State 2A championship. When the regular season ended, Evanston and Greybull had identical records but because of the loss to the Red Devils the Buffs were cut out of post-season action.

(Just a note, Greybull was in the Western Conference that included Evanston, Star Valley, Jackson, Lovell, Kemmerer and Thermopolis.) This was the year the Buffs finally broke the Lovell hex and after 13 consecutive losses to the Bulldogs, scored a long overdue victory, and beat Buffalo for the first time in a decade.

Also gleaned from pages of the past, the Buffs scored 288 points to their opponents 81 in the nine games played. And, believe it or not, starting with the game with Thermopolis, and the next week against Buffalo, Greybull scored touchdowns on each of 10 consecutive possessions, “a feat Greybull head coach Ed Rohloff says he’s never been associated with, or seen.”

Lee Clucas, now the special services director for Big Horn County School District No. 3 recalls, “Ed Rohloff was a motivator. He knew in practice and games how to motivate and get his athletes to work and play hard. He also was a fundamentalist. He kept it simple and worked daily on the fundamentals of the game making sure everything came natural on the field.”

Clucas said while he never had Rohloff as a teacher, “In my coaching years I incorporated many of the philosophies of (his) coaching into my own programs.” Clucas earned post-season honors during Rohloff’s tenure.

Schutte, who is a compliance broker for Keller Williams Realty in Leesburg, Va., admitted he was a “reluctant” player his junior year. He had quit football after his freshman year because of “a bad experience and it was no fun,” but after urging from former Coach Lonnie Koch, the newly hired Coach Rohloff and, quietly from behind the scenes, his father, Art, he decided to give it a try.

It was a decision he never regretted. After three days, Schutte said, his thought was, “Holy cow, this guy knows the game, believes in his system and I was having FUN again.

“I can’t remember his exact words, but he had a saying that stuck in my head: ‘As individuals we can never be perfect, however, I expect you to try to be as close to perfect every day you’re on this field.’ He lived by that saying, and most of my junior year, he was just trying to get us to believe in that approach.

“By the end of the junior year, we BELIEVED we would be state champs our senior year.”

Schutte can still remember the loss to the Red Devils that led to the dashing of their hopes. “The papers came out with us being ranked No. 1, which turned out to be a curse. We lost our Homecoming game because we played the worst we had played since mid-season our junior year.”

But the loss, Schutte recalls, “gave Coach Rohloff and his staff a time…to teach us another important lesson in life.” Down in the doldrums after the loss, the practices did not go well. “We did not have the same desire, dedication or concentration that we had had all season long. The coaches put up with it for the first two days, but the third day was Motivation Time. Coach Rohloff put it on the line and challenged us. He said, “If you keep practicing the way you are you will not win another game. So the question I have for you, is do you want to look back years from now and remember how you folded after losing one game, or do you want to be able to look back and know we were good enough to be state champs – but we had an off-week?”

In the next game out, the Buffs, for the first time since midway through the 1975-76 season, were behind at halftime. Rohloff’s challenge? “I am asking you to prove to me that you can come from behind and win a game.”

Remembering those two years, Schutte said, “Yes, Ed Rohloff had a huge impact on all of us, showing us how aiming for perfection every day, everything improves. Perfection cannot be obtained, but getting better every day can.”

Ben Smith, who along with Schutte earned all-state (and all-conference) honors, is now the principal at Big Horn High School. Smith said Rohloff had a tremendous impact on his life, not only as a football player but as a person.

“He would often refer to ‘this is a life lesson’ when we were having a particular experience. This foundational life skill has made a significant difference in my life as a person, as an athlete and as a coach. We learned how to win with class, and lose with dignity. We learned how to be an effective team member. I remember him encouraging us to go home and tell our parents that we loved them and appreciated their support so we could play the game of football.

“We grew to love the game of football because of his passion for it and his belief in us both as individuals and a team. It was the first time in my life that I even came close to pushing my limits and giving my all. Because of the culture of high expectations he provided us, we leaned to push our limits and as a result we grew as a brotherhood on our team. We loved each other, believed in each other, trusted each other and were willing to go to battle for each other because of his influence. Coach Rohloff pulled out the best in each of us to make us a strong and unified team.”

Smith said Rohloff “was a major influence in my decision to go into education to teach and coach. I attribute much of my coaching success to him; I will be forever grateful for his influence in my life.”

Rohloff left Greybull after the 1977-78 season, moving to Miles City, Mont., where he spent 26 years building the Custer County High School physical education and football programs. He had over 200 career wins, but, according to his obituary, insisted, “It’s an opportunity to teach things to the kids. It’s not about winning and losing all the time.”

Rohloff passed away Nov. 7 but his impact on the lives of the hundreds of young people he came in contact over his teaching/coaching career remains strong.

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