All of the coaches at the Catholic elementary school Jim Ewan attended were priests, so Ewan decided he’d wear the collar one day, too. "Then he found out what celibacy was," Ewan’s wife, Luann, said. "All along, he thought it was a vegetable."
Upon such misunderstanding a coaching career was born. Ewan, 55, has worked the sidelines for the past 35 years, the last five as head coach at Chandler High School.
"Lucky for me," Ewan said. "I would have been a lousy priest." Last Friday, Ewan and the Wolves traveled to Desert Ridge High School in east Mesa for a Fiesta Region game. Chandler had won three straight games after starting the season 0-3. Desert Ridge, in its first year of 5A ball, was struggling.
Still, Ewan was worried. This was the kind of game kids take for granted. Plus, Chandler High had been on fall break all week, and the interruption in routine further unsettled Ewan. "Desert Ridge is going to knock off somebody in a conference game," he said. "We don’t want it to be us."
Ewan was dealing with two other distractions, as well. His left knee was hurting, the result of arthroscopic surgery on Tuesday to repair torn cartilage, and he had invited a reporter to spend the day with him to see what a typical Friday was like in the life of a high school football coach. Ten hours later, the reporter knew: There’s nothing typical about it.
It’s 12:45 p.m. and Chandler High’s players filter into the locker room.
Ewan has been in his office since 11 a.m.
He figures he devotes about 30 hours a week to football in addition to his duties as head of Chandler’s physical education department.
That doesn’t count the nights that sleep eludes him because he’s thinking about the next game.
Ewan went to bed at 10:30 p.m. Thursday. He woke up at 1:29 a.m., 3:30 a.m., 4:31 a.m. and 5:30 a.m.
"I hate digital clocks," he says.
Ewan grabs his crutch and hobbles into the office of the assistant coaches. The mood is light, but that will change as the game draws near and Ewan’s stomach starts churning.
"Wait until 3 o’clock," assistant coach Eric Richardson says. "It’s bewitching hour. The coaches won’t even talk to him."
Ewan spends the next couple of hours trying to burn off some nervous energy. He finds plastic forks for the sub sandwich his players are devouring. He reminds them to be dressed by 3:30 p.m. He asks a player to pick up a teammate who can’t make it to school.
He’s less a coach than he is a den mother, but the chores serve a useful purpose. They keep his mind off the game.
"I get anxious," he said. "The thing I get worried about is sometimes I think our coaching staff is more competitive than our kids."
The pregame meetings begin at 3:30 p.m., and Ewan listens in as his assistants review assignments and play calls.
The jokes and laughter have subsided. Ewan changes into khaki slacks and a lightblue shirt, then asks for quiet in the locker room. It’s time to leave for Desert Ridge.
"Make sure you have everything you need. Shoulder pads, helmets, jerseys. Don’t forget anything," he says.
The players gather their equipment and head for the buses. Ewan, as is his custom, gets in the front row of the first bus. But before he sits down, he looks toward the back.
"I want it dead silent the whole way there," he says.
The 30-minute ride to Desert Ridge is uneventful, but when the team arrives, the doors to its locker room are locked.
Coaches are notorious for using any slight — real or perceived — as motivation, and Ewan is no different.
After a few minutes he says, "I know this much: At some point this (expletive) would irritate me. It becomes a lack of respect."
The Wolves are finally let in, and for the next 20 minutes Ewan paces the locker room, talking softly to individual players.
The room is silent after that, other than the occasional sound of cleats scraping across the floor. Ewan moves a garbage can and checks to see if there’s enough Gatorade in the cooler.
"This is the part I hate," he says. "The waiting."
Chandler begins its pregame warm-up at 6 p.m. Ewan stops to talk to every player, encouraging some, challenging others.
"You keep reading all these people saying you’re not making that many tackles," he says to middle linebacker Ricky Moore. "Prove them wrong."
The Wolves are back in the locker room at 6:30 p.m. Thirteen minutes later, Ewan gathers them outside for a team prayer.
As soon as the amen ends, the shouting begins.
"We’re going to get our (butts) handed to us if this (expletive) doesn’t change," Ewan says. "We’ve won three in a row, the Tribune is here to follow us, and we think we’re pretty good.
"The last time I checked we’re a 3-3 football team. That means three people kicked our (butts). We’re setting ourselves up. We’re walking right into it.
"Which Chandler team are they going to get? Let’s go out and prove to them we’re a better football team than they are."
The players head to the field, Ewan walking behind them. He’s asked about the propriety of following a prayer with such colorful language.
"Well, I could do it before the prayer, but that wouldn’t seem right," he says.
Chandler is ahead, 14-0, at the end of the first quarter, but Ewan isn’t happy.
The Wolves allowed Desert Ridge punter Brandon Trowbridge to run for a first down, and now the Jaguars are threatening to score.
Ewan meets his defense on the field and lights into them.
"They just moved the ball 60 yards," he yells. "Suck it up and play Chandler football. That’s terrible. You should be embarrassed."
The Jaguars score and after they convert the twopoint attempt, Ewan throws up his hands and says, "All we have to do is tackle them on fourth down. We just like to make things interesting."
Chandler clearly is the superior team, but even as its lead grows to 21-8 and then 28-8, Ewan isn’t satisfied. He had hoped to give some backups extensive playing time — particularly No. 2 quarterback Tony Simmons — but mistakes are keeping Desert Ridge in the game.
At halftime, Chandler’s defensive players gather on one side of the locker room while the offensive players sit in the shower room.
Defensive coordinator Roger Murdock rips his players and repeatedly slams an open hand into a locker for effect. Disgusted, he walks out of the locker room, leaving the floor to Ewan.
"The only thing I’m (angry) about is the fourth-and-12," Ewan says. "They get another first down on fourthand-12 and something is going to happen."
He is just as blunt with the offense.
"We get the ball at the start of the second half," he says. "There better be a touchdown."
Chandler does score, but Desert Ridge responds, and as the fourth quarter begins, Ewan is doing a slow burn. He hasn’t been able to get his backups on the field and, as he feared, his Wolves have taken the Jaguars lightly.
His temper explodes when Simmons, warming up on the sidelines to replace starter Kyle Hess, lets a ball bounce onto the field.
"That’s embarrassing," Ewan shouts. "That’s ridiculous."
Ewan doesn’t exhale until two minutes are left and Chandler is ahead, 42-16. (That’s the final score). He gives his headset to equipment manager Jim Elliott and manages a slight smile.
"It’s a win," he says. "But we made too many mistakes that will come back to bite us in the butt if we don’t get them corrected. The way they moved the ball, Gilbert (tonight’s opponent) has to be chomping at the bit."
As the players congratulate each other after the game, Ewan approaches Desert Ridge quarterback Clay Busch.
"You battled hard," he says. "You did a great job."
He can’t say the same about his defensive line.
"All your little darlings are going to be on the sled Monday," he says to line coach Beau Canfield. "Get them ready."
Ewan gathers his players on the field for a moment of silence and a prayer.
This time, a softer voice follows the amen.
"I need everybody in the house (the locker room) by 9 a.m. tomorrow," Ewan says. A few players raise their hands. They have to take the PSAT test (a practice exam for a college entrance test) on Saturday morning.
Ewan tells them to get to school as soon as they can. Then, after a night of kicking his players in the butt, he gives a pat on the back.
"Four straight wins and 2-0 in region. That’s an accomplishment," he says. "But we know we did some things wrong. If we continue to make those kinds of turnovers and mistakes, they’re going to be costly. We just have to clean up that stuff guys. I want to have to go to practice on Turkey Day."
As the players head for the waiting buses, Ewan asks a trainer to wrap a couple of bags of ice around his throbbing knee.
He limps to the bus, gets on and collapses onto the front row seat.
The back of the bus is noisy now, the players celebrating their victory, but Ewan is worn out. After checking on scores of other high school games, he takes a Vicodin and stretches out.
The ride back to Chandler is delayed about 30 minutes because a fatality has closed U.S. 60 at Gilbert Road.
"I don’t mind this when we win," Ewan says. "It’s miserable if you lose."
The bus pulls up to school at 10:45. Several of the coaches go to a nearby restaurant. They’re hungry and thirsty.
Ewan heads home. He’s done the late Friday nights before, and he’d rather go to sleep.
He won’t get much rest, though. He has to be back at work at 6 a.m. on