by Ryan Pilon
Twenty-three years. Eight undefeated season. Six city championships. Three provincial titles. That sums up the history of the Riffel Royals football team, and John Bolen has been there for all of it. Ever since the creation of Michael A. Riffel in 1985, Bolen has been the head coach of the school’s football program-until now. For the first time in the team’s history, the Riffel Royals have a new head coach.
Bolen moved to Calgary during the off-season to deal with private family issues, leaving Matthew Firnesz, the offensive line coach for the past four years, as his replacement.
When asked how he felt when he discovered he would be taking over the head coaching position from Bolen, Fernesz admitted he was nervous. “Any time there’s been a guy around that long, you definitely have some big shoes to fill.”
Len Antonini, who has coached with Bolen for seven years, said the atmosphere feels different with Bolen gone.
“John has been around forever. It was tough to see him go, and we had become really good friends.”
However, the transition to life without Bolen has not been too difficult. The rest of the coaching staff from the past few years are still together. And it isn’t like Bolen left the program in rough shape, either. The best way to go out is on top, and Bolen did just that. The Royals have won four city titles in the past five years.
“I was kind of excited... I knew we’d be able to continue the tradition of a winning program going,” Firnesz said.
And that they are. The Royals are currently in second place in the Schwann Conference with a 6-1 record. Not too bad of a start for a first-time football head coach.
“The team’s doing well, we’re very successful, and we’re growing up together,” said Firnesz.
“(Firnesz) worked with John so I think he learned a lot from John. He wanted to just continue on with what we had been doing in the past, so he sort of followed in the same footsteps as John,” said Antonini.
However, the future of the head coaching position is still in question for next year. Bolen plans on moving back to Regina in the winter, and will return to his teaching position at Riffel. It is still unknown as to whether or not Bolen plans on also taking over the reins of the football team again.
When asked about whether Firnesz worried this coaching position would be a one-year deal, he said, “I’m just worrying about this year and this year’s team, and I guess we’ll take it from there after that.”