MIDDLEBURY – Middlebury College football has only known two head coaches in the last 50 years. The most recent one blew his whistle one last time this past fall.
“I just felt like it was the right time so it wasn’t any one thing. There’s a lot of it I’m really going to miss about it, but I also think after my 40th season was a good time to step away,” said longtime head coach Bob Ritter, on the 2022 fall season.
Ritter ends his coaching career where it began in 1982, but won’t move too far away from the sidelines. He has now been named Middlebury College’s Assistant Director of Athletics.
“People might say I’d rather have the head coach leave and be off campus. [But] I’m actually thrilled that he’s going to be here because I know he’s not going to step on my toes in any way,” said the newly named head coach, Doug Mandigo. “He’ll do the opposite. He’s going to do everything he can to support the program.”
Mandigo has learned much of his coaching techniques from both Ritter and revered head coach and Middlebury Hall of Famer Michael Heinecken, as he has been on the sidelines in three different stints dating back to 1996.
“These are two people, two men that are mentors to me beyond coaching,” Mandigo said of Ritter and Heinecken. “They’re great dads, great husbands, not to mention the success they’ve had on the field… They’re just awesome people that get it. They understand the right values and the way to treat people and the way to lead men.”
Over the 22 years in the head coaching role, Ritter’s connection to Middlebury grew strong and he worked to translate that mindset onto his players.
“You can tell how much he cares not just for this football team but the whole community,” said senior captain, Greg Livingston. “His leadership, his mentorship and ability to instill that in us is one of the large seasons why he’s been around for so long and continues to produce such great young men and football teams.”
One of the highlighted football teams he produced came as recently as 2019 when his Panthers completed the first undefeated season in NESCAC history.
In early November, the New England football writers picked Ritter as its honoree for a lifetime achievement award to New England football. The awards ceremony took place in Framingham, MA on December 8.
“I was surprised to say the least,” said Ritter. “I know a lot of those coaches on that list and those were coaches that I looked up to when I started coaching and really admired. So it’s very humbling to be on that list cause it’s a pretty impressive list of coaches.”
As he moves into the administrator role, Ritter’s life on the sidelines won’t be too far from his mind.
“Certainly winning and calling those plays that work and seeing the guys you work with develop and kind of when the lightbulb goes off so to speak,” said Ritter on moments he will remember fondly. “That’s the fun part, having 95 people all going in the same direction and having the same goal. That excitement and that emotion will be something that I’ll miss.”