Northwest prep football fans must be wondering what hit them.

Ironwood Ridge’s Gary Minor resigned as the Nighthawks’ head coach Monday morning, a month after Canyon Del Oro head coach Pat Nugent announced his departure for Pima Community College,

While Nugent chose to leave for the college game, Minor wants nothing more than to slow down for a while.

“I’ve been thinking since this time last year that ‘08 would be my year,” said Minor. “It’s very demanding, practically a 12-month-year job — the summers in particular can become a grind.”

The demands of the job led Minor, a long-time Northwest coach who before taking over at IRHS in 2001 coached at CDO for two decades, to put off things that he will now have time to do.

“(My daughter) will be a senior at Notre Dame and I’ve wanted to spend a football weekend there with her; it’s a wonderful place,” said Minor. “Also, my first QB at IRHS, Ryan Crawford, will be a fifth-year senior at South Dakota State and I’ve never seen him play — I’d like to do that.”

While Minor sounds excited about the new freedom available to him, the decision to leave Ironwood Ridge was a difficult one.

“Right after the season ended, I was ready to step down,” said Minor. “But as December turned into January and January into February, it became harder to do.”

“It’s tough to let go of something that’s been such a huge part of my life for the eight years here at IRHS,” he added. “Getting back around the kids on a daily basis really made me have second thoughts, but I finally decided to take the step last week.”

Those kids have backed his decision every step of the way, Minor said.

“(They’ve) been extremely supportive, they know how hard it is for me to leave,” he said.

He’ll miss those athletes.

“I’ll miss plenty — especially being with the players,” Minor said. “I love being with them in the weight room, our summer trips to passing tourneys, and the practices.

“I’ll miss the fellowship of my fellow coaches here on our staff,” he added. “I’ll miss working at the preparation for each game and the exhilaration of a big win on Friday night.”

“They’re all big wins because so much goes into it,” he added.

There have been a lot of big wins for Minor to celebrate, especially in the last five years.

The Nighthawks amassed a record of 38-20 since 2004, and this year, Minor led the 2008 Nighthawks to the most successful season in school history, going 10-3 and gaining a #4 state ranking before losing in the state playoffs to eventual champion Peoria Centennial.

Those gaudy numbers means tough shoes to fill for whoever steps into the role, but Minor thinks he knows who’ll be up to the test.

“Although I will have no say in the decision, I strongly suggested to our athletic director that Scott Cortese, our defensive coordinator, be the next head coach,” said Minor. “He’s done an excellent job here, has a great football mind, is great with the players, has been involved in our program in all aspects, and has had a great deal to do with our success.”

“We don’t need to go outside to find a new head coach with a man like that,” Minor added.

Whether it is Cortese or someone else who takes over the reins at the program he built, Minor, who will still teach at the school, has some words for the new coach.

“I’d tell him to take advantage of the great football atmosphere that’s provided at IRHS by the players, student body, faculty and administration; take advantage of the community support,” Minor said.

“Just work hard and keep the football tradition that’s developed at IRHS growing stronger.”

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