Coach Paul Conrad: The legend lives on

RANGELY | When Paul Conrad started coaching in 1967 at Colorado Northwestern Community College, it was called Rangely College.
paulconradAs a young coach in the late 1960s, he figured he would be at the new college for a few years and move on to another job.
Nearly 35 years later, he did finally move on.
He retired.
“I told my wife (Sharon) we’d probably be here three or four years and move,” Conrad said. “She wasn’t overly enthused. I had the chance to move, but I didn’t. The rest is history.”
It certainly is.
Conrad, or “the Legend,” as he was called, is the school’s winningest coach in both men’s basketball and baseball. Because of his longevity, he’s also the losingest coach in both sports, but that goes with the territory.
“It was a lot of fun,” Conrad said, who continues to make Rangely his home. “We had good times and bad times, winning some and losing some, but it was a lot of fun.”
Conrad liked pulling double duty for the Spartans. Not only that, but he served as athletics director at the college.
“I enjoyed both of ’em,” he said of coaching both basketball and baseball. “I kinda went from one season to the next, but I liked both of ’em. They were a lot of enjoyment. And we had pretty good success in both of ’em.”
For the record, he won 430 games in basketball and 462 games in baseball.
“In basketball, we played in the regionals a couple of times, but didn’t make it to the nationals,” Conrad said. “In baseball, we made it to the regionals a couple of times. We had some kids who got drafted by the Major Leagues, one with the Rangers, who was a No. 1 pick in the winter draft.”
For Conrad, that’s what coaching was all about — the kids.
“Oh, yeah, being around them, recruiting them,” he said. “Getting them and keeping them here, that was tough sometimes. You had to be like a mother and a father to them.’
Recruiting high school athletes from more populated places to come to a remote area was a challenge.
“I enjoyed the recruiting,” Conrad said. “The tough part was you think you have somebody and you lose him. In a small town, you’re away from a lot of things. But I had some good ones out of New York, Chicago, Fort Wayne, bigger cities. Most of them had never seen the college until the first day they came to school here. That’s when the Greyhound bus would come into Dinosaur. The bus would drop ’em off, and I would pick ’em up.
“The junior college (route) is a place for your kids who maybe aren’t the best in the world, as far as players, but they can get a start,” Conrad continued. “I had a kid who went on to play at West Virginia for two years, another at South Alabama and Southern Utah.”
One of the kids Conrad coached who he didn’t have to lure to Rangely was his son, Rusty, who played basketball and baseball for his dad.
“It was fun coaching Rusty,” Conrad said. “He played when we had some pretty good clubs. People told me I needed to play him a little more. But he got his time in, and he had fun with it.”
Conrad and his wife have four children.
“They were all raised here,” Conrad said. “The oldest was 2 when we came here. All of them attended the college. All my (three) daughters graduated with honors. My son said if he had known they were going to do that, he would’ve done that too.”
Conrad has always been around sports. He grew up playing sports, lettering in football, basketball and baseball in high school in Decatur, Ind. He attended Ball State University in Indiana for one year, where he played “football, baseball and poker, not necessarily in that order, and my grades showed it,” he said.
After attending a Boston Red Sox baseball school in Florida, Conrad volunteered for the Army. He continued his love affair with sports, playing two seasons of football, basketball and baseball at Fort Riley, Kan.
After completing his military service, he attended Adams State in Alamosa, where he played football and baseball and earned his master’s degree.
“I was kinda small for basketball,” he said.
In college, Conrad went to school with Lee Vickers, who later preceded him as coach at Rangely College.
“He was a friend of mine, and he brought me out here,” said Conrad, who became Vickers’ assistant coach in basketball, coached the baseball team and taught physical education.
“The second year, he (Vickers) went on sabbatical and went to the University of Wyoming, so I took basketball over. Then he came back the next year, and I went back to being the assistant (in men’s basketball). Then, after that, he applied for a job at Lewis-Clark State College at Lewiston, Idaho. He went there as the basketball coach and academic dean and became president two years later.
“After (Vickers left), I was the head coach (in basketball), baseball coach and athletics director for the rest of that time, until 2000. I retired then,” Conrad said. “I came back the following year for half a year as basketball coach. They had hired an assistant for me and they wanted him to take over. He finished the year, but then he left the following year.”
Following Conrad’s tenure, the college went through a series of coaches. None who stayed around very long. That was hard for Conrad to watch.
“But I told my wife I wasn’t going back anymore,” he said.
Still, he remained close to the program.
“I stayed around. I helped them recruit. I kept the scorebook at the home games,” he said.
He saw a lot of changes during his time at the college.
“There were a lot of changes, new buildings, remodeling of buildings, they remodeled the gym,” he said. “I always thought I would’ve liked to have gone on to bigger things, but it was a good place to live. I never had any regrets.”
Of course, Conrad still follows the Spartans, and he still enjoys staying in touch with his former players.
One of those former players from Conrad’s early years in Rangely is David Fox of Fruita, who has been coaching himself for 30 plus years. Fox played baseball for Conrad in the early 1970s.
“I was a catcher,” Fox said. “I had gone to high school there in Rangely. I followed their teams, and I always liked coach Conrad. He’s kind of a Rangely College legend. He was a good guy. He was one of those guys you could count on and trust. He was the type of coach where you learned your fundamentals. He was personable with the players. I enjoyed playing for him. He helped me determine what I wanted to do when making a decision about my career.”
Fox looks back fondly on his days playing for coach Conrad.
“We had to travel a lot, and one thing I remember about coach Conrad is there was always someone in charge of keeping him awake when he was driving,” Fox said, laughing. “We had some really good teams. He was able to blend a group of guys together as a team. I don’t know what coach Conrad told them about Rangely to get them there. I think most of them were in shock when they got there. They were all pretty surprised to see how little there was in Rangely to do. The locals and the college kids don’t always get along well together, but sports gave everybody something to do.”
Fox, who was born and raised in Rangely, said he has stayed in contact with his former coach.
“I don’t get back to Rangely very often, because I don’t have family there anymore, but I’ve talked to him quite a bit over the years,” Fox said.
For Conrad, the relationships with his players is what his cherishes the most about his more than three decades as a coach at Rangely.
“I really enjoyed the time I was coaching here and teaching,” he said. “It’s always good to hear from (former players), that they’ve gone on to get their degree and are successful. This was the best job I ever had.”
The message on his telephone answering machine tells it all.
“You have reached coach Conrad …,” the voice on the machine says.
Once a coach, always a coach.