End of an era for Ford City football and its coach; Bartolovic steps aside
When the next high school football season rolls around, it’s going to be without a fixture on the Armstrong County gridiron patrolling the sideline.
John Bartolovic — a veteran of more than 30 seasons as a coach, including the last 19 as Ford City’s head coach — announced early this week that he would not interview for the Armstrong High School football job and plans to step away from coaching.
He revealed his decision first to players and staff at Ford City’s football banquet Sunday before making the news public, and he said pulling his name from the Armstrong search wasn’t an easy choice.
“It’s going to be a change. Pretty much since I was 10 years old, I’ve been on the football field,” Bartolovic said. “It wasn’t an easy decision, and I still have feelings both ways about it. It’s just bad timing for me.
“If it was five or 10 years ago, I’d be all about it. But my wife and I are both 55, and I couldn’t take on something new if I can’t be sure I’d want to be there in a few years.”
In 27 years as a head coach at Shannock Valley, the short-lived Armstrong East merger and Ford City, Bartolovic amassed a record of 159-103-5. He went 119-71 at Ford City with five Allegheny Conference titles and three WPIAL semifinal appearances with the Sabers. And Bartolovic can claim more than one-third of Ford City’s 352 all-time wins.
“Neither school was traditionally strong at football, and I think we did pretty well at both,” Bartolovic said. “It took us a few years to get going (at Ford City), but we just tried to get that first winning season. Then we said let’s get into the playoffs. The first conference title was my son’s senior year, so that was special.
“If I have any regret, it’s that we were so close to (the WPIAL final at) Heinz Field three times and didn’t make it. Still, I never would have dreamt 19 years ago that we would do what we did at Ford City.”
Continuity played a big role in Bartolovic’s success, which included both his team’s schemes on offense and defense and the coaches who helped install them.
Many of the faces on Bartolovic’s sideline have been with him for most of his career, such as assistants Ed Cutts, Bruce Dowling and Joe Stivason among others, and they were a big reason Bartolovic was hesitant to pull his name from consideration.
“I spent a lot of time coaching with the same guys, and we were a tight-knit group,” Bartolovic said. “It’s going to be tough not seeing them in that capacity, and knowing my decision would affect others made it so hard.”
Bartolovic isn’t likely to get bored without coaching. He said he has at least two more years before he will retire from teaching at Lenape Elementary, and he also has some of his favorite activities — golf and rifle hunting — to fill some of the down time.
“People who know me know I’m pretty active. I golf a lot. I’m probably a little obsessive-compulsive when it comes to things like that. But that might have given me my longevity in coaching to have those things to get a mental break and not burn out,” Bartolovic said.
Whether this is a final farewell from football is yet to be seen.
The coach expressed his gratitude to everyone who has been a part of his program through the years, and given the fondness with which he talked about his former players and their parents, it wouldn’t be hard to envision Bartolovic returning in some capacity.
“We had kids that worked hard, and I want to really thank those guys and the whole community. We had a great following, and the kids were so passionate.
“I’m just happy we got the town excited and had their expectations high,” Bartolovic said.
“I don’t have any plans, per se, to come back, but I’m smart enough to know that saying never is an awful long time.”