Perhaps overzealous, even by his own admission, Eric Reis declared that he wanted to build a dynasty when interviewing for the head football coaching job at Manteca High.
He did that and more.
After three years of speculation, Reis, now 48, officially announced Wednesday that he has resigned from the position after 16 highly-successful seasons at his alma mater. He goes out as the school’s — and city’s — all-time winningest coach with a sterling 150-42-2 record that includes 14 postseason appearances, no losing seasons, five Valley Oak League titles, three CIF NorCal Regional Bowl Games and five Sac-Joaquin Section championships in six final-round appearances.
Reis said his original plan was to step away after 10 years, but with his son, Kyle, fast approaching high school at the time he decided to see him all the way through his senior year. Reis added that he informed principal Frank Gonzales and Bill Slikker three years ago, when Kyle was entering his sophomore year, that he’ll likely be stepping down after the 2017 season.
“What it comes down to is it’s a year-round job,” said Reis, who will still teach physical education at the school. “For me it started feeling like work, whereas in the past it was a passion. That’s when I knew it was time to get out.”
Reis, class of 1987, is the first Manteca High graduate to return the school as its varsity head football coach. It was his goal since his college days playing at Cal Poly with good friend and fellow Buffalo Dan Eavenson.
Reis attributes much of the program’s success to the continuity of his staff. Neil MacDannald was the offensive coordinator for previous head coach Joe Miller’s 2001 SJS Division II championship team and stayed on board with Reis up until 2016. Defensive coordinator Rick James, defensive backs coach Bobby Fryer and Eavenson are others who have been with Reis since the beginning.
Former longtime assistant varsity coach Jack Miller, whose career with the program spans 33 years and four different head coaches, was honored to have been asked to remain on the staff when Reis took the reins. Miller retired in 2013 but has returned to the sidelines as a spectator in support of Reis and the Buffaloes in many of their big games.
“He has accomplished so much,” Miller said. “The record speaks for itself, but coach Reis stands for so much more than that. We truly believe here that this is a football family, and as a result we support each other and support each other’s families and we want kids to grow as young men as well as football players. I think the winning is the byproduct of the relationships that he and his coaching staff foster.”
From the beginning
Reis’ impact was immediate, even after Manteca lost most of its top players from the talented 2001 squad that finished ranked No. 3 among Division II schools in the state.
The Buffaloes kicked off 2002 ranked No. 1 but finished 7-3-2 and third in the VOL. It was in the postseason that year that Reis’ imprint on the program began to take shape. They went on the road to upset Foothill and Oakmont, then gave undefeated Colfax all it could handle in a 33-30 loss in the SJS Division III final.
“That team could not have played any better but we caught a few bad breaks,” he said. “People say, ‘Well, you’ve won five,’ but that one still hurts.”
He had a few more painful moments after that, but the good far outweigh the bad. He led Manteca to back-to-back section championships in 2005 and 2006, with the ’06 Buffaloes capping a perfect 13-0 finish as part of a program-high 27-game winning streak. Manteca earned its third section banner under Reis in 2013, resulting in its first-ever NorCal Bowl appearance.
Manteca ended 2017 short of its ultimate goal to play for its first state title when West Catholic Athletic League power St. Francis of Mountain View visited Guss Schmeidt Field on Dec. 9 and won, 28-23. The Lancers went on to beat Grace Brethren from Simi Valley 22-13 for the CIF State Division II-A crown.
But before that career-ending defeat came one of Reis’ most monumental wins in his decorated career — a 34-17 triumph over VOL rival Oakdale in the SJS Division III championship. Oakdale had earlier beaten the Buffaloes 36-15 at The Corral, where Reis has won just once — and it was for his 100th career win back in 2013.
“They’ve gotten the best of us over the years, and to be able to flip the script on them in that game, especially knowing it was going to be my last one against them, was pretty special,” said Reis, who is good friends with Oakdale coach and former Delta College teammate Trent Merzon. “It was a nice going-away gift, for sure.”
All in the family
Coaching at Manteca has been a journey for the Reis family. He is thankful for the support and understanding of his wife Jennifer, a 1990 MHS graduate who starred for the school’s basketball and volleyball teams before moving onto Nevada-Reno on a volleyball scholarship.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have a wife who is also an athlete,” Reis said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without her.”
Then there are his three kids, Kyle, Payton and Garrison. Payton is a junior and key member of Manteca’s VOL championship volleyball team. Kyle, meanwhile, has been at his dad’s side every step of the way, serving as the team’s water boy up until his freshman year.
It was fittingly Kyle who helped seal Manteca’s big win over Oakdale in the section title game, as he secured a fumble for a turnover in the fourth quarter. He’s an all-league first-team offensive tackle who also played at defensive end.
The younger Reis said Wednesday he plans on following his dad’s footsteps and become a football coach himself.
“This is a culmination of a great career that he had and the legacy he leaves behind,” Kyle. “If it wasn’t for me he probably called it quits a while ago, but his persistence to stay and make sure my senior year was as great as it was means a lot to me. He’s a fantastic coach, and it’s special to be able to go out with your dad.”
And now comes the hard part for Manteca’s administrators — finding a replacement.
“Good luck with that, right? I should turn in my resignation, too,” Slikker joked. “It’s going to be a tough task. Whoever is replacing him will be filling some big shoes, and they need to know what they’re getting into.”
A good spot, says Reis.
“There are still some talented kids coming back,” he said. “That’s the thing, I would hate to leave it in shambles for the next guy. Manteca High is my school. I want it to succeed forever.”