The famed football coach with a pair of state championships satisfied his gridiron fix as an assistant at Emory & Henry College a season ago. But it wasn’t enough.
So, when an opportunity to return to the prep arena arose, the former Gate City High School coach sprung at the chance. Colobro was unveiled as the new football coach at Sullivan East on Monday afternoon at a news conference on campus.
“I just like coaching,” said Colobro, a VHSCA Hall of Fame inductee in 2005. “I’d like to coach for several more years — as long as I can stay healthy and as long as I enjoy it.
“I don’t know about anybody else, but I don’t think it would be healthy for me to just go home after retirement.”
East athletic director John Dyer, who introduced Colobro at a fruitful gathering of press, faculty and parents, said 20 candidates applied for the position. The list was narrowed to eight for the interview process; Colobro was always the standout.
Colobro replaces Ralph Nelson, who resigned in March to accept a position on new coach Stacy Carter’s staff at Science Hill. Nelson was 40-43 in eight years at Sullivan East, including guiding the school to its first-ever playoff win in 2004.
“We’ve been fortunate the last eight years to have Ralph Nelson to be our head football coach,” Dyer said. “We wish him all the very best.
“Moving forward, there is no doubt that Nick is the man to lead our program into the future. This is a great day to be a Patriot.”
Colobro left Gate City in 2008 as one of the most decorated — and revered — coaches in the history of the state of Virginia. His 29-year career, which included a stint at Tazewell, produced state titles in 1997 (Group AA, Division 3) and 2003 (Group A, Division 2), and two more final appearances, his last in 2007.
He ranks ninth in the commonwealth among non-active coaches in wins (259). In 26 years at Gate City (1983-2008), he compiled a career record of 235-78-1.
East, meanwhile, last qualified for the postseason in 2007. The school has a combined record of 7-13 over the past two seasons.
Colobro isn’t concerned, though. In fact, as he mentioned several times, wins and losses are the least of his worries.
“I don’t know how many football games we can win,” Colobro said. “I’m certainly not going to make a prediction.
“The only thing I’m going to promise is that we’re going to work extremely hard and do the right thing. We’re going to present a football team that everyone can be proud of.”
Work ethic was central to the coach’s message, and he did not shy from engaging not only players but parents and the community as well. All three are crucial for success, Colobro said.
His version of “tough love” includes a bounty of hard work — much of that in the weight room during the offseason — and no “sugarcoating.” None.
“If you’re going to be a champion, you’ve got to treat them like champions, you got to dress them like champions, you’ve got to demand them to be champions.
“We only have one rule: Do the right thing.
“I told the kids today that the worst thing they can do is learn how to quit. I don’t believe in quitting in tough times. And we’ve got some uphill battles ahead. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
There is also the challenge of a new environment. Crossing the border for the first time in his prep coaching career brings with it a slew of new hurdles.
“I’ve got so much to learn about the state of Tennessee. There are all these rules and regulations that we didn’t have in Virginia,” said Colobro, who moved to Piney Flats with his wife, Carol, in 2001. “I’m really going to lean on the rest of the staff to keep me in line.”
That won’t be a problem if you ask Dyer.
“He’s a football man, he’s got a lot left,” Dyer said. “It’s a slam dunk I think for us.
“It’s exciting for us. There is a great buzz around school.”
There’s certainly a buzz surrounding Colobro.
Colobro, 59, who started his coaching odyssey as a graduate assistant at Virginia Tech in the ’70s, was positively beaming Monday.
Perhaps it was the lighting. Or, perhaps more likely, he was back where he belongs.
Back with the kids. Back in the trenches.
“It’s been a long four or five days — and nights — of tossing and turning,” Colobro admitted. “I’m excited, anxious to get started here.
“I asked myself if I am ready to do this job, can I do this job. I think I can.”