The only head at Valor Christian heavier than the one that wears the crown is the one that doesn’t.
“I wanted to know, like, ‘If I don’t win (a title) the first year or something, am I out of there?’” new Eagles football coach Bret McGatlin told me Monday during CHSAA’s fall sports media day at Empower Field.
“I’d just (said), ‘Let me build the culture in the way that I think it should be done.’ And they were all on board.”
These are not your father’s Valor Eagles, kids. Or Ed McCaffrey’s Eagles. Or Donnie Yantis’ Eagles, for that matter.
The prep football team you either love to love or love to root against — ain’t much middle ground — is on its third football coach since November 2019. It’s also been four seasons since Valor won a state title, an eternity when you gobble up seven within the first decade of your existence, including five in row from 2009-13.
Enter McGatlin, who won at Chatfield for 16 seasons and notched a Class 4A title last fall thanks to a wacky come-from-behind 41-34 win over Erie. The Eagles’ first-year boss is something of an anti-Ed. McGatlin comes off as humble and unassuming, a relative paragon of stability in a 1-800 profession, a deep thinker in a TikTok world, the coach’s coach.
To put it another way: Jim Harbaugh may recruit McCaffrey’s progeny, but he steals McGatlin’s plays.
One’s a necessity. The other’s a compliment.
“When you love a place (like Chatfield), it’s always gonna be hard,” said McGatlin, whose jump from the Chargers to the Eagles this past April raised eyebrows. “I also felt like, for my growth, spiritually and professionally, to have this opportunity, it wasn’t going to happen again.”
McGatlin took the gig for a number of reasons, personal faith included. But he did so, he added, with the promise from the administration on Grace Boulevard — they approached him, he said, not the other way ‘round — that his services would come in exchange for something else: Time.
Time to build his culture. Time to foster continuity and stability, two terms that aren’t exactly first-to-mind when you talk about Valor football over the last three years.
“They really want culture first,” McGatlin continued. “And obviously, they want to win at the highest level, there’s no doubt about that.
“But it’s not the flip (side of that) — they don’t want to win first and then maybe culture. It was like, ‘Let’s make the culture really high here.’ And that’s what I feel like they’re looking for. And that’s where I feel like we all connected. And since I’ve been there, it’s been everything I’d hoped it would be.”
On the other hand, saying good-bye last spring was about as much fun as a kick in the teeth. For all sides.
“At first, I was a little taken aback,” Cade Thomas, Chatfield’s senior linebacker, said of the meeting in the Chargers weight room last April during which McGatlin broke the news.
“The change was so sudden, too, because we were just coming off the state championship … and then this kind of came and we were all just not expecting it. I’m not bitter, but I was just surprised.”
Thomas admits that he’d kinda love to draw the Eagles, the defending Class 5A state runner-up, in the postseason. One, because it’s Valor. Two, because of, well, you-know-who.
“That’d be a little extra for this group to see (McGatlin) again, if it came to that,” the Chargers linebacker explained. Then he smiled. “I think we would maybe bring some extra competitiveness. But not out of pettiness.”
Of course not. If it’s of any comfort, kid, your old coach said he was on the fence, even after the job was offered.
“My wife kept telling me not to close the door,” McGatlin recalled with a grin. “Even if I tried to a few times.”
In the end, the coach sought guidance from the smartest football guy he knew. Who, you know, also happened to be one of the smartest minds in Colorado high school football history: Bret’s father, former Green Mountain coach Don McGatlin.
“It was funny,” the younger McGatlin admitted. “I was scared to tell him.
“I was scared to tell him because I know he was at Green Mountain for so long. So I kind of waited till the very end, like almost like a week before my final interview, to tell him.”
Dad’s take? If Valor wants you, kiddo, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime lifeline.
“He stopped and paused for a minute,” Bret continued. “And (Don) was like, ‘Man, go after that.’
“And I that’s what kind of gave me like (the feeling of), ‘Oh, OK. Yeah.’ (He said), ‘The fact that Valor thinks you’re one of the top coaches, that you can coach there — that’s a huge honor.’ And so he made me feel really good.”
Bret went up to his dad’s ranch over spring break 2022 to hash it out, father and son, for about three days. In the end, they agreed, it was time.
Now we’re about to find out how much of that time, if the winds do get choppy, the younger McGatlin has on his side.
“The hope is that (Valor) is a place I could be for the next 15 years or so,” Bret said, grinning again. “Until I can retire.”
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