After 37 seasons, 202 wins, 16 playoff appearances and a Class DD state championship Bob Clement is finally handing in his playbook for good.
The Pittsford head football coach announced his decision to his players following the team’s district finals loss to Colon on Nov. 6 and he gave his official letter of resignation to Pittsford athletic director John Hoeft the following week.
The 62-year-old Clement started as a junior varsity football coach in 1973 and has worn every hat from junior high track coach to high school principal to counselor in the Pittsford district ever since.
He took a buyout and retired from teaching five years ago and he said it was only a matter of time before he decided to trade in his headset and collection of game-film for more time with his wife Jill, and their grandchildren.
“This year was just a perfect year. The kids, they just accomplished so much and they worked so hard and I guess that’s just kind of the way I wanted to remember it,” he said Wednesday, sitting on a porch overlooking 165 acres of family property, wearing a blue Pittsford T-shirt. “I’m afraid some people do things so long they’re sick of it and that’s how they remember it and I don’t want to do that.”
Clement said he and his wife had many discussions about his retirement the past several years, but he didn’t make up his mind until early October.
“Of course my wife and I knew, and I told my son Frank Clement who coaches with me,” he said. “I told them with probably two or three weeks left in the season that this was going to be it.”
To those closest to the winningest coach in school history it was no surprise, but some of the players and Hoeft were caught a bit off guard.
“Honestly I wasn’t sure, and I really basically found out when everyone else did — I didn’t have an inkling,” Hoeft said. “He’s been here a long time, he’s been a figure of Pittsford football, for I don’t even know how many years for sure.”
Senior QB Garet Lee said it was a bit of a shock to the team, but it was special to be able to be a part of their coaches’ last season.
“There was certainly an element of surprise. I don’t think we were expecting it, but I guess if he wanted to retire it was his choice,” Lee said.
Clement told the players while the seniors collected commemorative pieces of their home field after the season-ending loss.
For Clement it was a quintessential moment to close out a coaching career full of them.
“They all lined up and gave me a hug,” he said. “We always give the field (grass and dirt) away to the seniors at the end of the year and that’s when I told them. It was nice.”
Clement has long been known as the type of class act who prides himself in hard work and dedication to reach goals, and Hoeft said this season’s 7-4 finish is a great example of Clement getting the most out of his players.
“Bob is a great coach. Look for instance at this year’s team — they struggled a little bit at the start, and by the end of the year I thought they were playing excellent football,” he said. “So even in his last year I think he did an excellent job, and I told him that. It was as good as a job as I had ever seen him do with our kids.”
Lee said he and Clement were close on the field and they seemed to usually have a good read on what each other were thinking during the course of a game.
He also said, despite the age gap from Clement to the high school crowd, his coach had a way of making the guys laugh.
“We were always close with him and would joke around with him and all of our other coaches,” he said.
“Just some of the words he makes up, they’re ridiculous. They were always so interesting and there were many that he’s made up over the years that I’ve heard that we always say during school.”
Hoeft said one of Clement’s strengths is his ability to communicate with students in a way they understand and respect him as an authority figure.
It also didn’t hurt that Clement has coached his teams to a 70-35 mark this decade and he has Coach of the Year plaques to put alongside his 1996 state title, which the Wildcats earned with a 47-7 win over Maple City Glen Lake at the Silverdome.
Along for the entire ride has been Jill Clement, who said she knew her husband enjoyed coaching early on, but she didn’t know how long it would last or how successful he might be.
She admitted it was an emotional few weeks for her and Bob Clement leading up to the season finale, realizing that Friday nights are never going to be quite the same, but she is excited to have the opportunity to spend more time with her sweetheart.
“It was kind of, I don’t know…I guess sad thinking about it, because it had been a part of our lives so long, but it’s also something I kind of look forward to. Now we’ll have time to do other things,” she said. “I know football will still be part of our lives, it’s not like we’ll never be going to another football game, but I look forward to having more time with Bob.”
Bob Clement seemed to agree, saying he looks forward to following the lives and athletic ventures of his five grandchildren, while staying busy with a number of different personal projects.
“I don’t have any problem finding stuff to do. My wife and I do everything together, she’s a great gal,” he said with his trademark genuine smile.
In the meantime the Pittsford athletic department and administration will embark on a coaching search for the first time in nearly four decades.
Clement doesn’t think he’ll be asked for advice during the process and he said it’s probably not his place to say much anyways.
Nonetheless, he said he believes coaching is about being hands-on in a number of different aspects of students’ lives and he thinks Hoeft and his constituents would be wise to consider people who already work in the district.
“I definitely know who I’d like to see get it…I wouldn’t want to see anyone from the outside coming in, because that would be no different and probably worse than me,” he said. “Because at least I know the system and I just don’t like it (when they’re from outside the district) because a coach should be rubbing elbows with the kids and know what’s going on.”
Frank Clement has spent a great deal of time around the program and Bob Clement would obviously love for his son to take the job, but he currently teaches at Hanover-Horton.
Hoeft said the job has already been posted and an administrator and school board member will help him look over applications. He said he knows a few internal candidates will be on the table, but he doesn’t know what to expect otherwise.
He said there are a lot of different qualities and character traits to consider with this hire and he wants to use a lot of what Clement stands for as a blueprint — a good leader who will work hard.
Although it is a time of transition, he hopes it is just an extension of the program Clement has helped build.
“It certainly is going to be a change. For many people he’s the only coach they’ve ever seen. Thirty-seven years for anybody who is 40 years old, they just don’t know anything else,” he said. “Yes, it will certainly be different, but I hope our program can carry on the same kind of success he built. That will be one of our goals, to find someone who can carry on that tradition, and those aren’t easy shoes to fill.”