Conlon resigns and takes office at Division II football powerhouse
Jim Conlon had a signature for his players: Leave the program better than you found it. Now, as he leaves after more than a decade as head of the University of Washington’s women’s football program, it’s clear that Conlon has followed his own advice.
He left college as the most successful women’s football coach in history and now heads to the head coach position at Grand Valley State University after leading the Bears to 12 straight playoff appearances from NCAA, multiple trips to the Finals, and the 2016 National Championship.
He leaves behind a team of Washes. U., who hasn’t played competitively since the fall of 2019, when the Bears lost a broken heart against Pomona-Pitzer in the Elite Eight. An interim coach will lead the team this fall before the athletic department conducts a national search for a successor over the winter.
When Conlon broke the news to his team, he didn’t speak for long. He conveyed the news to his team through small Zoom squares and then, overwhelmed with emotion, allowed Assistant Athletics Director Chris Peacock, the administrator who oversees women’s football, to explain the schedule for the new ones. changes.
The call was “a total shock” to Kally Wendler, no one older expected Conlon to leave. At the same time, the players expressed their enthusiasm for the future of their coach.
“There was shock to hear it, but there was also a lot of gratitude and appreciation,” said senior Gabbie Cesarone. “You could tell people were still very excited about this opportunity for him.”
[From the fall of 2019: Our profile of Conlon after he notched his 200th career win]
Conlon returned to the women’s program in 2008 as the third women’s soccer coach in the team’s history. Since then he has coached an incredible record of .824 wins and nine University Athletic Association championships. His acclaimed accomplishments include the first national championship in program history and two finalists in 2009 and 2015. He has also coached 20 all-American players during his career, a testament to his strength both as a coach and as a mentor.
Conlon moves on to a program where his job to quit the program better than he found it will be cut for him. 2019 Division II national champion Grand Valley went 25-1 that year, scoring 117 goals while allowing just 10.
The legacy he left behind is one that personifies the experience of Division III athletes: of school, football and social events, in that order. Yet his presence even supplanted his role as a simple coach, getting to know his players outside of a football context. The team got to know him through a relationship that “really went beyond football,” Wendler said. “He’s a great coach, but he’s an even better person because he really tries to make us feel like we have a family away from home.”
Cesarone echoed her teammate, mentioning “the random calls just to check in”, or how Conlon “what can I do for you?” attitude supported the players beyond the playing field. “I always knew if there was something I needed I could call him and he would answer,” she said.
In Conlon’s absence, the team will try to live up to the high standards he has set throughout his tenure. “Expectations are very high for this program because of the success created by Coach Conlon,” said Peacock.
The administration has various concerns about the fall, including the fall recruiting cycle for the 2026 class, but given the timeline, they felt an interim coach was the best fit. The ideal candidate, said Peacock, will be “someone who can maintain the level of success but who will really help with the transition from this extremely difficult time for the team that couldn’t play a regular season.” When the hiring committee decides on the finalists, the team members will be part of the hiring process.
Despite the change of coach, the Bears will still play their first game in less than a month, on September 1 against local rival Greenville. The seniors on the team hope the transition will be a smooth one thanks to Conlon’s strong leadership. “It puts us in this unique and great situation where we can use the pillars that he created for the program and shape them in our own way,” Cesarone said. With a busy schedule on the horizon, the team are looking to their senior management to maintain that stability for the “young class struggling to play,” as Cesarone described them.
The fact that only half of the squad have played a full season poses an exciting but imposing question mark over the team’s upcoming season. For the team members, it’s especially exciting. “No matter who we call coach, I think everyone is just excited to be back and thankful that we are no longer limited by the virus,” said Wendler.
Sports editor Grady Nance contributed reporting.
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More stories from the days of Jim Conlon as the head of the Bears:
Just short of perfection: women’s football suffers first defeat, rebounded from the Final Four
This time, a victory: women’s soccer wins the program’s first national championship
Five football players take regional honors, Conlon named top coach