Coach Pletsch reminds me of Al Davis, the former owner of the Oakland Raiders. I knew Al and learned to appreciate his quirky and winning ways during my years with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Al was a great motivator for his team and loved every one of his players. Tom is taking over a football program from coaches who never emphasized winning! This is year one and Tom has already preached the value of winning.
Rancho’s losing football record for the past few years is a real challenge for coaches unless they eat, sleep, and dream ways to make a winless team great. Coach Pletsch has what it takes to convince each player that they can win and will compete on a level playing field.
Good luck to Rancho Ram’s 2015 Football Team. Three cheers for all the Coaches that volunteered to work with Coach Pletsch this year to turn losing teams into winners!
He would glance at the scoreboard and watch the seconds tick away, never stopping when the whistle blew or a pass fell incomplete, never pausing to suggest an ounce of competitiveness had snuck into the contest.
It was a brutal reminder as to how horrible things had become.
The damn thing never stopped ticking.
Robert Howard says there will be tears, perhaps enough to wash away the entirety of losing so many football games, a type of cleansing those at Rancho High have waited for through a level of indescribable frustration. When it finally happens, when the clock hits zero and the Rams have more points than the other guys, emotions will overwhelm them.
“We get teased all the time about 0-29,” said Howard, a senior running back. “It makes you mad, but you don’t want to forget it. I’m part of it. I keep it all in the back of my mind as motivation. I remember every time we had to look at a running clock the last three years. … When we win a game, the entire team will probably cry. It has been a long time.”
It can be an incredibly tiring and arduous road back to respectability, from a recent state of hoping second-half deficits don’t grow to 45 points and warrant a running clock to the proud and successful program that won a state title in 1988.
Time passed and the valley broadened and schools were seemingly erected around each corner, taking from Rancho the sort of participation numbers in football that once allowed it to compete at a high level.
Tom Pletsch is determined to create such times again, a Rancho alumnus who over the past 11 years turned the school’s baseball program into an annual winner and who has now been offered a chance to do the same in football.
He can recite the numbers — 29 straight losses dating to 2011, no current player in the program having experienced a victory, having been outscored 50-6 on average the past three seasons, 22 of those 29 defeats having included a running clock — that tell the forgettable story.
He had coached college football at various stops before returning to Las Vegas to tend to his ill mother, taking a job in the casino business and quickly rising up the profession’s ladder. But a comfortable position and handsome paycheck didn’t necessarily translate into a happy camper at home.
“My wife said I had become a miserable old man and it was time to do something I loved,” Pletsch said. “So I got my teaching certificate and have been back at Rancho ever since. Some might think leaving a $100,000 job for a $40,000 one makes me dumb, but I love the kids and I love to compete.
“We have good kids who work hard and do all the right things. But watching this football program the last three years, you could tell it had very little direction or structure. Getting beat 54-0 and 64-7 and having that running clock … these kids are better than that.”
He accepted the football job in December after former coach Tyrone Armstrong had been dismissed and immediately hired a staff of 11 assistants. Among them are several who also attended and played for Rancho, who can’t fathom another season of their school being embarrassed on a weekly basis.
When you assume ownership of an eyesore of a house, infested with rotting wood and insufficient plumbing, it’s often best to skip the renovation stage and tear the whole thing down.
That’s what Pletsch is doing with Rancho football.
Everything is different. How players walk, talk, dress, stretch. There is new tile in the locker room, new speakers from which to blare music during weightlifting sessions, a philosophy that begins with identifying those eighth-graders who are zoned for Rancho and introducing them to the program before they step on campus.
For the first time in four years, the Rams will field teams at the freshman, junior varsity and varsity levels.
The entire program had 52 players last year.
There are 95 today.
“I learned more my first day of practice with this new coaching staff,” Howard said, “than I did the previous three years.”
Excitement is born from expectation, and in Pletsch you have a 54-year-old coach who will not allow those wearing Rams colors to accept losing, to at any point be defined by what occurred before he took over. There is too much tradition at Rancho, too many moments like the annual Bone Game to covet.
It’s the oldest tradition in Nevada prep football, the rivalry between Rancho and Las Vegas and the winner being handed Sir Herkimer’s Bone, a keepsake the teams have played for since 1957.
Not that it has been close lately.
Las Vegas has won 19 straight in the series.
The gymnasium at Rancho is like most locally, with banners of those league and regional and state championships won by all sports hanging from the rafters. Pletsch, who will continue to coach baseball at the school, looked up at them one day last week and spoke about the past, the present, those hopes and dreams of one day being able to again portray success in football high above a gym floor.
Rancho will play an independent schedule for the second straight season, which the school petitioned the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association for when it began losing too many players because of injury.
The Rams open at Gila Ridge (Ariz.) on Friday night in Yuma, hoping to return home having extinguished the ghosts of 0-29.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you we are going to beat Las Vegas in the Bone Game or that we’re going to win so many games,” Pletsch said. “We still take three steps forward and two back. I’m always up for a challenge, and this is a big one. But we are going to be competitive, and it’s my goal that when the fourth quarter arrives each week, the outcome is still in question.
“You will not see a running clock.”
And maybe, just maybe, tears will flow under the bright lights one Friday night.