Ed Rifilato can’t get enough of Fort Lewis College football, and the Skyhawks’ athletic department once again showed how much it values Rifilato when he was named the team’s defensive coordinator during a coaching shuffle Wednesday.
“You just don’t know how much you miss it until you leave,” Rifilato said. “There are so many great things about Fort Lewis and Durango that you miss, so many good people. That’s what I miss. Of course, I love the players. I’ll put my heart and soul into all of them.”
Rifilato last was on the FLC sideline as a linebackers coach during the 2017 season. In 2016, he took over as the team’s head coach to replace John L. Smith. It was Rifilato’s second stint as the Skyhawks’ head coach, and FLC went 4-7 overall and 3-7 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. He resigned after the 2016 season because of health reasons but remained on the staff of Joe Morris in 2017.
Morris announced his resignation as head coach of FLC on Wednesday after two seasons in which the Skyhawks amassed a 6-15 record. Offensive coordinator Brandon Crosby was promoted to interim head coach for the first time in his college coaching career, and the veteran Rifilato will join his staff.
Rifilato was a scout team coach of Dixie State during the 2018 season. Now, the 55-year-old will return to Durango and FLC, where he has spent 12 seasons of his nearly 30-year coaching career.
“It’s obviously a huge blessing to have an experienced coach like Rif kind of in your corner being there to bounce ideas off,” Crosby said. “Being a first-time head coach, I couldn’t ask for a better situation. Rifilato, his name and work speaks for itself as far as being one of the best Xs and Os guys and football coaches out there. He’s a huge benefit for the program.”
Rifilato will reunite with many of the players he helped recruit to the Skyhawks. He was already in Southern California on a recruiting trip Wednesday afternoon.
“Rif’s experience here and helping a new guy with Crosby’s strengths I think is gonna be a really strong team,” FLC athletic director Barney Hinkle said.
Rifilato was the head coach of FLC from 2004-09. Combined with the 2016 season, his teams amassed a 26-48 record, including 18-32 in the RMAC. He coached the 2006 team to a program-record seven wins and won the Dixie Rotary Bowl, the program’s only postseason victory. Rifilato also has head coaching experience at New Mexico Highlands.
Rifilato, whose wife Kelley coached volleyball at FLC from 2013-17, played for Smith at the University of Idaho and was part of Smith’s staff at Louisville. He also was the defensive coordinator at Idaho from 2000-01. Rifilato returned to FLC in 2012 and remained on Smith’s staff as the defensive coordinator during Smith’s three years at FLC.
After one year away of the full-time grind of coaching, Rifilato is ready to get back to scheming defenses against the high-powered RMAC offenses. FLC has been known for its tough defense in recent years. Last season, the team ranked fourth in the RMAC in defense, as it allowed opponents 422.4 total yards per game. FLC ranked third against the run and seventh against the pass.
“I like a good chess game,” Rifilato said. “I did miss that part, and it seemed like I was getting really old not coaching as much. I’m looking forward to getting younger again.
“I looked back, and I saw a lot of good football players sitting over at Fort Lewis. I love guys that want to be coaches and they become coaches on the field. They have a lot of them over at Fort Lewis.”