By Lynn Burton
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
Look for some changes at Roaring Fork High School after athletic director Marty Nieslanik hired Carbondale Middle School teacher/coach Matthew Phelan as its new football head coach last week.
For one thing, Phelan told The Sopris Sun he is going to recruit soccer players to also play on the football team.
“It’s a small school,” Phelan said. “We can cross develop players.”
Some parents and others were reportedly worried that RFHS might drop its varsity football program after less than 20 players turned out for the team last year, and the head coach resigned.
“He knows the game,” Nieslanik said.
Phelan knows a little bit more than just football. Yes, he played left guard for UCLA in the late 1990s, but also went on to earn his JD in law from Boston University after giving the National Football League a try.
At 41 years old, the California native worked as a venture capital/private equity attorney for firms in New York, Boston and San Francisco before deciding the corporate law gig was not for him. This despite the fact that he was voted a “Rising Star” by the Massachusetts Bar Association Corporate Law Division, according to the Carbondale Middle School website.
“I wasn’t one of them (corporate lawyers),” Phelan said. He and his family eventually settled in Southern California where he coached and taught school.
About two years ago, Phelan and his wife, Shannon, decided California was not sustainable. “There was no shock,” he said, saying in both Southern California and the Roaring Fork Valley, a 1,400-square-foot house can cost $750,000.
When Phelan and his wife started thinking about moving away from Southern California two years ago, they looked at Arizona, Texas and other states. But a friend who lived in Boulder said they should check out Colorado.
The Phelans drove to Colorado and expected to find a school in Denver where he could work. Instead, he attended a job fair, met representatives from the Roaring Fork School District and decided to take a teaching job at Carbondale Middle School. Moving to the Roaring Fork Valley wasn’t a hard decision. “This is a beautiful location, with great people,” he said.
Last October, Nieslanik talked to Phelan about becoming the RFHS football coach. “The (RFHS) football program was in a ‘dire situation’”, Phelan said. “This was a chance to give back to a community that has been so welcoming.”
Phelan said he thinks he can build the RFHS football numbers, in part, through his work with the Carbondale Middle School team, which feeds players to the high school program.
As for football itself, Phelan said, “ … football is unique. Few (other) sports can teach like football … it’s unique for character building.