Ryan Freeman, who spent the last 15 years working under Max Ragsdale as an assistant, has been hired as head coach of the Campo Verde football program.
Freeman will immediately take over operations of the program as an official approval from the Gilbert Public Schools governing board is not needed because he is already a teacher on campus.
“I really wish I could put it into words, the level of excitement I have,” Freeman said. “It’s something has played with my mind and heart the last few years. ‘Is it time to step away from coach (Max) Ragsdale and Campo and move out on my own and take a head coaching job somewhere else?’
“But for this opportunity to come up, it’s comfortable. My kids go to school 200 yards from me so to not have to uproot them and change their lives was amazing for me.”
Ragsdale stepped down as head coach of the Campo Verde program in early April to become the new athletic director for the school. He and principal Krista Cox immediately began the search for the football program’s new head coach.
Freeman was among as many as 30 applicants that put in for the job. But the lure of being able to hire from within and keep some continuity within the program ultimately played a key role in Ragsdale’s decision to hire his former assistant.
“We have a long history,” Ragsdale said. “We had two days of interviews and he just went to the forefront. Everyone on the committee thought he would do a good job.
“Our coordinators were always the two to talk in practice and specific meetings. I didn’t say a word. I felt it was important for the players to hear their voice. Defense has always kind of led the way for us and he’s had a huge hand in that.”
Freeman began coaching with Ragsdale when the two were at Apache Junction. When Campo Verde opened in 2009, Ragsdale was hired to build the football program. He brought Freeman and other members of his coaching staff with him from Apache Junction.
Freeman spent the last nine seasons as defensive coordinator for the Coyotes, helping lead them to a playoff appearance in all but one season. His defense played a pivotal role in Campo Verde’s run to its first ever championship appearance this past season. Despite losing in the title game, the Coyotes held a high-powered Williams Field offense to just 19 points.
But as he transitions to head coach, Freeman hopes to be able to step back and oversee the program as a whole. But that depends widely on their ability to find a new coordinator that is willing to run the same defense. With COVID-19 putting a halt to all sport-related activities, installing a new defense in a limited amount of time has Freeman on edge.
“With the limited prep time, none of us know when we will be able to come back and work with the kids,” Freeman said. “Putting in a whole new defense in a limited time frame is a scary thing for me. If it turns out that I need to run it this year, that’s what I’ll do. But I would like to take a step back and focus on everything and not just one thing.”
Freeman hopes to officially inform the players of his hire in the next day or two via a zoom call. Though shortly after the announcement was made Tuesday morning, his phone had already started blowing up with notifications.
He anticipates a smooth transition as players within the program are already familiar with him. But even then, he can’t help but feel pressure given all the program had accomplished under Ragsdale since its inception.
“In all honesty, there is a lot of pressure,” Freeman said. “Max is a good friend of mine. He’s always been supportive of me, so I feel a lot of pressure to carry on the traditions and great things he set in motion at Campo and all the success he’s had.”
“I’m going to respect everything he put in place and build on it rather than tear it down and bring in new ideals. I want to get going, we just don’t have that chance just yet. But I’m excited.”