It was no secret that Todd Casebier wanted to one day return to coach football on the Western Slope.

This fall, Casebier’s Castle View High School team defeated Fruita Monument at Stocker Stadium, and Casebier made it clear he intended to return to the Western Slope, where he had led three different programs, at some point.

Nobody, Casebier included, thought it would be this soon.

After 13 successful seasons at the helm of the football program at Rifle High School, Damon Wells stepped down this winter, providing a golden opportunity for the former Palisade, Montrose and Fruita head coach to return to the area. Rifle Principal John Arledge confirmed to The Daily Sentinel on Thursday that Casebier will be the new head coach of the Bears.

“The big picture plan for us was always to end up back in western Colorado,” Casebier said. “I did not think it was going to be this soon, but once I found out there was a job at Rifle, my wife and I wanted to pursue getting back to western Colorado and things fell together. We’re excited to be going back to western Colorado and going to Rifle.”

Wells had a successful tenure at Rifle, going 118-35 and never having a losing season. He was an assistant coach on the Bears’ 2004 state championship team and, in 13 seasons, led the team to three state title games in 2005, 2012 and 2014. In the two years since 2005 that Wells didn’t coach Rifle (2008 and 2009), the Bears slid to 7-13, but he returned to coach the team for a decade from 2010-2019.

Once Casebier made his interest in the job known, Arledge saw him as the best option for a seamless coaching transition.

“Todd’s pushing almost 30 years of experience,” Arledge said. “He has great relationships and connections throughout the state, but especially on the Western Slope, so he understood things like our travel, where Rifle is, where our competition is — especially playing in the Southwestern League and also the Western Slope League in the past — so he had knowledge of what the geography, the climate, the culture, the people and those kinds of issues.

“Wherever he’s been, he’s won, and he’s won at the very highest levels, so, of course, he was very attractive for us,” said Arledge, who was the head coach at Palisade from 2004-11 after Casebier departed for Montrose.

Casebier knows how to win, and win big, on the Western Slope. In 20 years, he led Palisade to the state title in 2003, got Montrose close to a title in 2014 and returned Fruita to respectability on the gridiron from 2015-2017. He went 175-60 with the three schools and made the playoffs 18 times in two decades.

After the 2017 season, in which Fruita went 10-1 and won its first conference championship since 2002, he accepted his first head coaching job outside of the Western Slope when he took on the Castle View job on the Front Range.

After three seasons and a 19-11 record, he’s taking on another Western Slope challenge. However, the circumstances are vastly different this time around. When he accepted the Montrose job, he inherited a 1-10 team. At Fruita and Castle View, he inherited 1-9 squads. However, Rifle’s program rolled under Wells for a decade, with the Bears’ 2019 team going 10-1.

“The last three schools that I went to — Montrose, Fruita and Castle View — were all turnaround programs, meaning they weren’t very good and I needed to go in there and make them better with the help of my staff,” Casebier said. “Rifle’s been very good. Coach Wells and his staff have done a great job at Rifle. There’s quite a difference between where Rifle is at now compared to the other programs I’ve been at lately.”

Another unique field of experience Casebier will provide is the knowledge of how to lead the team in the midst of the global health crisis. Rifle, unlike Castle View, didn’t play football in the fall, opting to play this spring instead for a multitude of COVID-related reasons.

“We were really hoping that COVID would be over at this point, but it continues to keep going on,” Arledge said. “There’s travel and there’s so many complexities with COVID and athletics, so a lot of schools decided to go in the spring for a variety of reasons. For us, it was that, and we decided on it as a district.”

Alredge said that, while the school district won’t be able to make an official call until this summer when it has a clearer picture of the spread of the coronavirus and state regulations, the plan is for Rifle to play football both this spring and in the fall.

“I can tell you that I’m probably the only guy dumb enough to coach two COVID football seasons,” Casebier joked. “I did it in the fall at Castle View, and now, I’m going to do it in the spring at Rifle and then again in the fall at Rifle. I’m pretty aware of a lot of the challenges because I just had to deal with them at Castle View. Hopefully, I can bring that experience to Rifle and help with that.”

Casebier will also join the Rifle High School staff  as Dean of Students on January 12, pending school board approval.

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