Culver football all in on Jesus Retano
The concept of family isn't lost on Jesus Retano, nor his alma mater, the Culver Bulldogs.
Retano built a reputation as a hard-hitting defensive back and sure-handed receiver while starring on the Bulldogs from 2008 to 2011. The tight-knit community adored him, and when he went on to play football at Eastern Oregon University, he remained a well-liked son.
It came as a surprise to few, then, that when head football coach and athletic director Shea Little sought someone else to fill his coaching role, he wanted none other than Retano. Retano figured he would come home to assist with the program once his playing days were over at EOU in 2016, but didn't assume he would ascend straight to the head-coaching ranks.
"Obviously I was surprised," Retano said. "I wasn't really expecting that, but I saw it as a great opportunity."
Because Retano was fresh out of playing college football and lacked coaching experience, he agreed to the job on one condition — that Little and longtime assistant coach Brian Silbernagel would remain with the program. The three sat down and agreed upon a system in which Retano calls the defense and Silbernagel the offense, while Little takes on a lesser role as an assistant.
Having Silbernagel, the Bulldogs' head coach from 2009 to 2012 and Little (2013-16) on staff will allow Retano plenty of lineage to learn from.
Retano's last collegiate season culminated in EOU advancing to the NAIA semfinals, before losing to Baker (Kansas) 45-41. Retano gleaned a lot during EOU's historic season, especially the familial bond that he and his fellow defensive players developed. It is a bond that Retano says already exists at Culver, but also something he wants to emphasize further into the minds of Culver players.
"I want everybody to buy into the brotherhood feeling. In college this (past) year, we were pretty successful. I think a huge part of that was being a family — knowing that no matter what happened, those guys would always have my back and I would always have their backs. That's what I'm trying to get in here."
Retano and Silbernagel will technically share the title of head coach, but only in the interim. While Retano handles on-the-field duties, Silbernagel will take care of administrative business while grooming Retano into the sole head coach.
Silbernagel, who has been on Culver's staff since the mid-2000s, represents a constant in a field that has plenty of turnover. He was the defensive coordinator when the Bulldogs captured the 2007 state title, and head coach when low participation numbers forced the team to forfeit two games in 2012.
"He's kind of the Culver program," Little said. "He was there for the state title and he's been there through the tough times. He has never bailed from it."
Little, meanwhile, said he wanted to take a step back and focus attention elsewhere.
He grew tired of watching game film on weekends rather than watching his daughter, Shealene, play volleyball at Tennessee Tech. Now that his oldest son, Mack, will be a freshman on the Western Oregon University football team this fall, Little had all the more reason to cede the job to Retano.
"It's time; I definitely want to be involved with the program and still coach … But at the same time, I've got two kids off playing in college and I want to focus on them," he said.
The Bulldogs have spent limited time together this summer, but Retano has already begun the process of getting to know each of his players. They've had two weeks of practice together, as well as four days at WOU football camp.
Retano said he got so excited afterwards that he wanted to continue practices, though he acknowledged that players probably are enjoying a quiet period before fall camp begins Aug. 14.
"To tell you the truth, I'm pumped," Retano said of coming back to coach at Culver. "I always wanted to be a coach after college. I never wanted to leave football, because football has done a lot for me in my life. It's been bad times, good times, but it's always been there."
Those close to the program have little doubt Retano will develop into Culver's mainstay head coach in the not-so-distant future. He's already been handed the keys to the program; now he will learn how to drive it.
"I made it very clear that on the field, he's the head coach," Silbernagel said. "That's our dynamic ... I'm OK with it and he's OK with it and I think it's going to work moving forward."