Football: End of an era as Cameron steps down

San Benito High coach Chris Cameron, seen here talking to his team after a CCS Division I semifinal win over Alvarez in the 2014 playoffs, announced he would not be returning for a 23rd season as the head coach.

After 22 years, Chris Cameron announced on Tuesday that he has resigned as San Benito High’s football coach. Bryan Smith, who has been the team’s offensive coordinator since 2007, has been named the new head coach for the upcoming 2016 season.
“I can’t give you one specific reason why I got out,” the 52-year-old Cameron said. “I’ve gone back and forth a lot, and really can’t pinpoint it to one thing. This decision has been sitting with me for a long time. When you’ve been doing something for so long, it’s hard to drop. I just felt it was time for me to take a step back and not be the one carrying the flag and leading the charge up the hill.”
Over an outstanding 22-year career, Cameron went 162-96-6, including winning four Central Coast Section championships, four league titles and a perfect 13-0 record in the 2000 season. He also guided the Haybalers to six other CCS championship game appearances. Even though Cameron has a rolodex of memories of standout games and teams, one team and game stood out: the 1999 squad that beat powerhouse St Francis 39-34 in the Central Coast Section Division Division I playoffs.
“That team winning that game put us on the map,” Cameron said. “That was the first time we qualified for a section championship (the Balers lost to Oak Grove in the final), and that’s when we got things rolling and started our run. I think we played in 10 section championship games in the next 14 years. That team had so much heart and character and set the pace for future Baler teams after that.”
It was a signature victory on many fronts: the Balers had already lost to the Lancers in the season opener and trailed in the rematch, 28-10 at halftime. Somehow, some way, San Benito rallied for the victory against a juggernaut program that had seven players on the roster who later went on to play for Division I programs, Cameron said.
That’s when San Benito became a program synonymous for consistently getting the absolute most out its talent.
“The guys on that team set the bar for everyone else,” he said.
Cameron spent countless hours studying film and building camaraderie with the players and coaching staff, and his passion for the game was infectious.
“Coach’s energy rubs off on you, it’s contagious,” said R.J. Clark, who was the starting quarterback for the last two years. “He makes you believe in yourself and your teammates, and when that happens, we all work harder for one goal. That helps when we play against bigger teams, because he’s getting at your heart. And we believed no one played with bigger hearts than we did.”
Despite all of the success on the field, it was the countless players’ lives Cameron affected off the field that he treasures most. When former players are in town, they’re usually on the sideline during a home game. It’s not uncommon for Cameron to run into one of his former players at a store parking lot in town after not having seen them for several years.
It’s always a special moment for Cameron when one of his former players calls him or thanks him for simply being their coach.
“Football is a game where you’re teaching kids life lessons that you can’t get in the classroom,” he said. “It won’t show up in the transcripts as an official class and it won’t be on the report card, but all of the lessons you learn from the game—work hard, pay the price, develop relationships with each other to succeed, overcome adversity—it’s the greatest education you can get. As a coach, that’s what you hope the guys walk away with, that they come out better people because they played the game with coaches who cared for them.”
Cameron thanked dozens of people for helping him throughout his career, including Smith, Tod Thatcher, Chris Evans, Ed Schmidt, Bob Rawles and Shawn Tennenbaum. Cameron made special mention of his family, including his wife, Michele, and their three children: Cody, Kyle and Chelsey.
Cody and Kyle both became a ball boy and water boy before suiting up as starters, and Chelsey, who is a freshman playing on the girls junior varsity basketball team, has been on the sidelines for every home game for the last couple of years. Michele has also been involved with the program, helping Chris in a variety of aspects while providing wise counsel—she’s an attorney after all.
“They’ve all been a part of this, which makes it that much more special,” Cameron said. “I’ve been wrestling with this decision for a pretty long time because football has been my whole life. Our kids weren’t born when I started coaching.”
Cameron said the outpouring of community support made his experience all the more memorable. Whenever Cameron looked up in the stands during pregame warm-ups, he knew he was a part of a unique experience.
“It was good to see all those butts in the seats every week,” he said. “You have a lot of people coming to watch Baler football for 20 to 30 years, and it’s a great community to be a part of. I was blessed to have this job, and the rewards were priceless.”
Said Clark: “I know I can count on coach for anything. As a player, you wanted to do well so you could show him why he had faith in you. That and you didn’t want to get yelled out again (laughs).”
Make no mistake: Cameron isn’t done with coaching, not by a long shot. He plans on coaching again, perhaps as early as the upcoming season—he just doesn’t know where or in what capacity. It could be at San Benito or some place else, and all of that will shake out in the following months.
For now, Cameron is going to “relax”—he wakes up at 4 to 4:30 every morning, so relax is not really in his vocabulary—and enjoy a mental break knowing he doesn’t have to worry about leading a program in the fall. For football coaches manning a competitive program, there really is no such thing as an off-season.
Cameron’s off-season duties include overseeing strength-training sessions, scheduling games and camps, ordering uniforms—you name it, he’s got to do it. Cameron gives new meaning to the term football lifer—his passion for the game burns as strong today as when he first started coaching the Oak Grove frosh-soph team in 1989 with San Benito athletic director Tod Thatcher.
“I still have a ton of energy when it comes to coaching,” Cameron said. “I have a lot to offer to anybody who takes this job, whether it’s in the weight room or on the field coaching. I don’t know what the future holds, but I don’t think I’m ready to be put on the shelf to start collecting dust. I think it’s the right decision, but tomorrow I might wake up and think otherwise. I’ve been pretty steadfast on this for several days, but there were a lot of days waking up at 3 in the morning and staring at ceiling. But this morning (Tuesday) was different. It was time.”

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