By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Managing Editor
Robbie Owens uprooted his family of four before last season, leaving his home of over 20 years in Grand Junction, Colo., to accept a new head coaching challenge at Helix Charter in San Diego.
Owens had deep roots in Grand Junction, Colo. He started his coaching career as a college assistant at Mesa State from 1996 to 2006. He then served as a head coach of Grand Junction High from 2008 to 2015, logging a cumulative record of 47-38-1 including an 11-1 season in 2011.
On top of that, his wife and two sons – a junior and senior in high school – had called Grand Junction home for the better part of two decades. Still, Owens considered five factors before accepting the job at Helix High in San Diego.
Owens recognized that he needed his entire family on board with a move to Southern California, so before he even interviewed at Helix, he called a family meeting at the kitchen table.
“I told my boys to get out their cellphones and look up everything about the area,” Owens said. “If anybody doesn’t want me to take the job, I won’t even interview. They talked about it and said they were all-in. It was a family decision, and I knew I had their support. That way, I could go into the interview knowing I was all-in as well.”
A Strong Tradition
Helix boasts one of the strongest high school football traditions in the country. Current NFL players Alex Smith and Reggie Bush attended Helix, and in 2004, both were finalists for the Heisman Trophy. It was the first time two finalists attended the same high school.
The Highlanders, who play in Division I-AA, California’s largest classification, went 11-2 in 2015 – before Owens was hired – and won the San Diego section before falling in the state semifinals. They won a Division II state championship in 2011. Owens went 10-3 in his first season at the charter school.
A New Challenge
Grand Junction peaked under Owens in 2010 and 2011, when the squad made consecutive 5A quarterfinal appearances. The offensive innovator integrated a no-huddle pistol offense before watching his team’s participation numbers decrease in recent years. Grand Junction moved down to 4A last season.
“I was told by many people we’d never win there, and three years later, we were ranked No. 1 in the state,” Owens said. “By the end of my time there, we were competing against Denver schools and struggling. I’ve always considered myself a college coach, so I was always looking at job postings. This one was perfect.”
Owens could have waited another two years – until his youngest son graduates high school – for the timing to work out perfectly for a move to California, but he recognized his career track might suffer if he were to wait.
“I saw a research project that determined that most people can commit to something for seven years on average,” Owens said. “It was a project about youth sports and the human psyche. Everybody pushes these kids to specialize in one sport earlier. The human psyche is wired to commit for seven years and then burn out. I always had that on my mind.”
If you’re going to uproot your family, relocating to a family vacation spot is not a bad way to do it. The Owens family loved the San Diego area even before the move, and the allure of coaching at Helix only added to the coach’s intrigue.
“We always talked about how great it would be to live in San Diego,” Owens said. “This was a nationally ranked, prestigious job. If it wasn’t Helix and it wasn’t San Diego, it’s not a job I would have looked at. It’s kind of like we won a lottery ticket.”
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