Carl Charles knew in December this would be his final year as Ridgefield High School’s boys basketball coach.
In a sense, he had been preparing for his last game, which took place Saturday with a loss to Fairfield Prep in the Class LL Tournament, since the day five years ago he took the job.
Charles, who has been a head coach for 31 years at three different schools, officially stepped down as the Tigers’ coach on Monday, a move that was rumored all winter. Charles was going to inform his players this Sunday at the team banquet, but decided not to overshadow the event and met with his players Monday afternoon.
Andrew McClellan, a three-year assistant at Ridgefield, will take over next year.
“I knew before the season, I had made up my mind that this was going to be it for me,” said Charles, who will remain as the school’s athletic director. “I had a big senior class and I kind of wanted to graduate with the seniors.”
Charles, who previously coached at Weston and Masuk, retires with a record of 481-234. He won eight league championships, and made nine Final Four appearances in the state tournament and two trips to the finals, all at his previous two stops.
Charles was 79-39 with the Tigers, turning around a struggling program. Ridgefield qualified for the FCIAC Tournament four times and for the state playoffs all five years; his teams qualified in the latter 29 times.
There was always a feeling that Charles hired himself as the Tigers’ coach, but that was not the case.
“Five years ago we were interviewing for a coach and we didn’t feel we had the type of person to change things around. It was a collective decision,” said Charles, referring to Ridgefield school administrators who were involved in the process.”
Charles leaves with a resume of getting the most out of his teams, and though some may not think so, he did not fail in that charge this year. The Tigers were considered the preseason favorite in the FCIAC based on returning personnel, most notably forward Kurt Steidl. Their 18-6 mark is a fair indicator of a team that never could fill a void at point guard and lacked quickness in a league where the upper tier teams shared speed as an asset.
One indication of Charles’ work is the manic fan base — the Tiger’s Lair — that filled the school’s gymnasium for home games and had large turnouts on the road.
Now it will be McClellan’s turn to try and build on Charles’ work.
“I’m excited about turning it over to him,” Charles said. “I feel he is the type of coach an athletic director would want to hire.”
Charles should know.