Rick Candaele sits at his desk at Carpinteria High School, next to a window overlooking the locker room, where a sign proclaims: “WARRIOR SPIRIT NEVER DIES.”
That message resonates with Candaele, who is entering his 50th year as a high school or college coach. He is perpetually animated by his interactions with young athletes striving to achieve on the fields of friendly strife.
“I can’t do anything else,” he said. “I can’t build anything, can’t make anything, can’t draw anything” — except maybe some diagrams of football plays.
Candaele was marinated in sports from his earliest days. He started out playing hockey in Vancouver, Canada, taking after his father, Bob. His mother was an exceptional athlete. Under the name Helen Callaghan, she played for the Fort Wayne Daisies in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, immortalized in the movie A League of Their Own.
The Candaele family emigrated from Canada when Rick was 10. “My dad had a bar in Phoenix called the Dugout,” he said. But heat and scorpions prompted them to move to Santa Barbara, where his father and uncle bought the Spigot, a bar and music venue on De la Vina Street. “My first job was cleaning out the Spigot every Sunday morning,” Candaele said. He went to Hope School, where “I caught my first football pass from Dr. Will Hayes.”
Eventually his father sold the bar and went to work as an electrician, settling the family in Lompoc. Rick and his four younger brothers thrived in the small town. “It became our year-round playground,” he said. He was a sophomore at Lompoc High when he put on a football uniform and pads for the first time.
“I put the girdle on backwards,” he said. There was a flap meant to cover the lumbar bones that he brought to the front. “Why would you waste the protection and put that damn thing in the back?”
Such memories informed Candaele’s later perspective as a coach. “It’s important to have a sense of humor,” he said. “You see 15-, 16-year-old kids making the same mistakes over and over. You don’t learn until you do it.”
He played multiple sports at Lompoc and the College of Idaho, and there was never a question that he would pursue a career as a coach. His brothers went in different directions. Twins Kelly and Kerry Candaele entered journalism, politics, and academics. Casey, the youngest, took after their mother and had a nine-year career in Major League Baseball. He currently is a manager in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
Then there was Rocky, an avid surfer. “He was 49 years old, surfing at Surf Beach. When he came out of the water, boom, he died of a heart attack,” Rick said. “A lot of people say if you’re going to go, that’s a good way to go, but I think if you would have asked him, he’d say, ‘Not yet.’”
“Not yet,” is Candaele’s answer to the question of retirement. His son, Coley, who followed him into the profession, wonders if it will ever happen.
“I’ve given up on the idea that he should travel, see the world, and relax,” said Coley, who’s coaching cross-country and football special teams at Vista Murrieta High in Riverside County this fall. “Coaching is all he’s wanted to do. He might end up dying on the football field. He’d want the practice to continue: ‘Candaele’s dead. Let’s move over here and run the drill around him.’”
The 71-year-old Candaele has held four prior head football coaching positions: at Armijo High in Fairfield (“It was a tough place, across the street from a prison”), Nampa in Idaho, UCSB, and the Claremont Colleges.
He came from Idaho to help Mike Warren, a former Lompoc High coach, keep UCSB’s Division 3 program going. That brought his family — wife Maren, Coley, and daughter Kirsten — to Carpinteria. After Warren retired, Candaele coached the Gauchos for three seasons — going 22-8 — before the school dropped the sport in 1991. His children, meanwhile, excelled at Carpinteria. Coley led the Warriors to three CIF titles as football quarterback and won the mile run at the State Track and Field Championships.
Candaele spent 17 years at Claremont, the last 15 as head coach. Coley became an assistant to his dad and then made a name for himself as a high school football coach when he led Carpinteria to a 14-0 season in 2002. Vista Murrieta, a looming powerhouse, brought him into the league of big-time prep sports. Unlike his father, Coley said he has “an expiration date” on his career.
“I want my children to be better than me,” Rick said. “Coley’s a better coach. My daughter’s a better teacher.”
Carpinteria remains a small-scale, tight-knit program, and the elder Candaele gladly returned to serve as defensive coordinator in 2015. When head coach Ben Hallock retired, Candaele succeeded him last year.
While his basic values remain the same, Candaele said, “You have to adjust every 10 years” to changes in the sports environment.
“The coach was usually right, but now he’s often wrong,” he said. “If things didn’t go well for me, my mom would say, ‘Maybe you need to practice harder — and quit whining.’ Now a coach has to explain things more and be understanding.
“You have to help them individually, but you want to teach them to be part of a team. I try to get each person to see how being good for the team is good for you. You have to combine those two in present-day athletes.”
On football, which has seen declining participation, Candaele said, “It’s as safe as it’s ever been. They put the shoulder in tackles. Our practices are shorter and faster, with not as much out-and-out contact. Trainers are there all the time. Water breaks every 15 minutes.”
The Warriors made their 2018 debut last Friday night against Los Alamitos, a much larger school. They rallied from a 14-0 deficit to send the game into overtime. After the defense stopped the visitors, Carpinteria moved the ball just close enough for Tito Arroyo to try a field goal. His kick wobbled through the uprights for a 17-14 victory.
“It was the most beautiful ugly kick I’ve ever seen,” Candaele said. “I had an ear-to-ear smile.”
Carpinteria travels Friday night, August 24, to continue its longstanding football rivalry against the Santa Ynez Pirates. Three city teams will have home games: Friday night, Santa Barbara High facing Ventura at Santa Barbara City College, and San Marcos hosting Santa Maria; and Saturday, Dos Pueblos taking on Oxnard Pacifica at San Marcos.
Thirteen girls’ volleyball teams from San Diego to Mountain View will mix it up with the S.B. Dons, SM Royals, and DP Chargers in the Tournament of Champions on Friday and Saturday at the S.B. High gym.
After Westmont College took the Bryant & Sons Cup away from UCSB last year by beating the Gaucho men in soccer for the first time in 17 years, the Gauchos got revenge for the first time in 17 years, hammering the Warriors 7-0. UCSB hosts St. John’s of New York at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.