Heller: Ewan's life begins (again) at 61 - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

Heller: Ewan's life begins (again) at 61

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Posted: Tuesday, July 5, 2011 5:21 pm | Updated: 3:58 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Life moves at 4G speed these days, which is bad news if you’re 61 years old, took your first weeklong vacation from work in more than 40 years and have a hip replacement and knee surgeries.

So at age 61, Chandler coach Jim Ewan did the wise thing and walked away.

He’s not the only one. In 2011, the golden years have guided Mike Reardon, Jim Beall and (to a lesser degree) Rich Milligan towards different ventures. Some still coaching and teaching, some toward the golf courses.

They’re all characters, successful, first-class coaches and people, but as the previous coaching generation continues its annual dwindle it’s Ewan we’ll miss most from the “Class of 2011” retirements.

In this post-July 4 push toward the beginning of football camps, those northbound trips to Snowflake are what the mega-mustached man will miss most.

After 40 years spanning four high schools and three colleges, it’s practice time, eating marginal cafeteria food and sleeping on cots in cooler air was among his favorite times of the year.

That’s odd given the year-round rampage that high school football coaches must withstand these days, or considering the cot he often kept in his office didn’t offer the same excitement — nor did it often matter because he rarely ever slept, whether at home or anywhere else.

Then again, Ewan was often part of the unconventional. He had a set of golf clubs in his office that were never touched, but put hundreds of miles on the golf cart he drives around campus.

The Wolves had the ball and a 14-point lead with under two minutes remaining against Hamilton two years ago, but lost. What’s likely the last play of his head coaching career was All-State quarterback Brett Hundley handing the ball off to a running back on fourth-and-1 from the Desert Ridge 3-yard-line, trailing 38-35 with under a minute to play in a first-round 5A Division I playoff game.

Even though the on-field triumphs for 10 years at Chandler (not to mention Eloy Santa Cruz and Gilbert) still bordered on a 75-percent success rate, it was always the 0-for-Hamilton mark and no state championship during Chandler’s boom that became November-through-August fodder. And he always answered every question about those perceived on-field shortcomings.

“Two things I thought would happen when I came here: I thought we’d beat Hamilton and win a state title,” he said after last October’s 14th consecutive final loss to the Huskies in the past decade. “Whether it’s fortune, fate, bad karma, whatever you want to call it, that hasn’t happened.

“It crosses my mind every day, and it didn’t happen so it’s something I’ll have to live with. It will stick with me forever, but I’d have to be OK with that.”

Outside Chandler walls, about 75 kids who went on to play college, and nearly that many of his former players have become teachers or coaches. Or that he and wife, Luann, have had nearly a dozen kids move in with them at one point or another because of kids’ rough home life.

His age, body, and the grind of doing all the latest demands having nothing to do with what hooked him into this venture since he was a teenager (coaching kids) are what finally drove him out. He’ll still teach a little at the school. He might return to coaching as an assistant somewhere in 2012, maybe Gilbert since it’s nearby and he has a long-standing friendship with Dunn.

A week after his head coaching career came to an end in that gut-wrencher against Desert Ridge, Ewan and Hamilton coach Steve Belles took part in a “dunk tank” at the Chandler city block party to raise money for cancer. In April, Dunn, former players and coaches came out of the woodwork to “roast” Ewan, even though he’s one-lined himself every which way for years.

This is his self-written Chandler High School website teacher bio:

“I am a tough guy to get in touch with. However, if you call me, I will return your phone call in a timely manner. I am the head football coach here at CHS, therefore, if you can’t find me in the weight room, I am usually on campus somewhere doing something for football. I can be found every afternoon on the practice fields (please wait to talk to me until after practice - about 6:30) and if I am yelling at the players, it might be a good idea to come back the NEXT day! If you STILL would like to meet with me, please call and set up a time so you can get my undivided attention. My bark is much worse than my bite and I really am a fairly nice guy.”

He’s talked about being in the bleachers for the Army vs. Navy rivalry, and watching more of his former players play in college.

But not in the past 10 days. He’s been unreachable, and his voicemail box has been full for years since he didn’t bother to learn how to retrieve messages from his cell phone.

The best guess is he’s back seeing his daughter in Italy, where he snapped that 40-year vacation streak in 2010. He’ll be back around campus later this month to teach and bust kids’ chops while finding something to occupy a massive void in life, starting with finding a new spot for the cot.

“I can’t picture him reading a book,” said former St. Mary’s coach Pat Farrell, who played with Ewan in high school 45 years ago. Jim will chase something down. I can’t picture him saying, ‘Yes, dear’ to everything on the honey-do list.” 

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