Dan Ellington's historic run at Santa Maria High has come to an end.
The head football coach said April 28 that's he's stepping down from the position after six seasons on South Broadway.
Ellington, 57, said he felt it was the right time to step aside, citing difficulty in maintaining the same level of energy and passion he had when he arrived on the Santa Maria High campus in 2015.
"I feel like I've done just about everything I could do at Santa Maria High School, as far as the football program," Ellington said. "I think it's probably time for a new coach to come in and give it another boost of energy. I'm kind of on empty."
Ellington will go down as the most successful football coach at Santa Maria High in the modern era and one of the top Saints skippers of all time.
Ellington went 27-35 at Santa Maria, winning 44% of his games during his six-year run. In the 11 years before his arrival, Santa Maria won just 17 games total, going 17-92 and winning 15% of its games.
Ellington helped the Saints end a two-decade-long league title drought in 2017 and coached that same team to the CIF Southern Section Division 12 title game. He also led the Saints to a victory over Righetti in 2016, the team's only win over their former rival in the last 27 years.
Beating Nipomo for the Northern League title in 2017, a game in which the Saints trailed 19-0 at one point, was a highlight for him. The 22-20 win at Righetti in 2016 was another.
The Saints won three games just once in the 11 seasons before Ellington arrived, yet he achieved that feat five times in six seasons, even winning three games this spring in the pandemic-shortened season. Santa Maria was overmatched in the Los Padres League for years, but a switch to the Northern and Ocean leagues helped Santa Maria find some footing under Ellington.
The Saints went 11-13 in league games during his six-year tenure at Santa Maria. They went 3-65 in league games in the 11 seasons before his arrival. The Saints were in the Los Padres League for 10 of those seasons.
But, Ellington feels he's hit a wall and his coaching career is now at an impasse.
"I plateaued," he said. "I've pushed the program to a certain point. I enjoy challenges and I came here for a challenge. I wanted to see if I could make a difference and I feel we did, my staff and I. At this point, it's been a long year with COVID and the whole season. I'm on empty and I feel like it's time for someone to come in and give the school another boost."
Ellington says he's not sure if or when he'll be coaching again. Before coming to Santa Maria, Ellington was the head coach at Pioneer Valley. He's a 1982 graduate of Righetti High.
"Dan was a transformational coach for us," said Santa Maria athletic director Brian Wallace. "I mean that in two different ways, not just that we won more, but also the attitude of the kids. They started to believe they could win. It's not even about winning with Dan. He helped them see that they could be successful in whatever they were going to do. What he was trying to do was more than win games. That's what he did for us."
Ellington echoed Wallace's sentiments — though he was successful on the field at Santa Maria High, that wasn't the top priority.
"It's enjoyable knowing that you accomplished something and gave back to the community, or at least I hope I have," Ellington said. "I hope I've given back to the kids. Something that when they leave Santa Maria High School I was a good influence. Hopefully they left this school being better people because I was able to do something in their lives that helped them along the way. That's always been my No. 1 goal, to take a young man and turn him into a good young man and give him some skills he can take with him.
"If you're going to coach in high school, winning cannot be the priority. It has to be about the kids and you have to do what you need to do to make them better people."
Ellington says he plans to continue teaching in the Special Education department at Santa Maria High. He was twice named the Times' All-Area Coach of the Year, in 2016 and 2017.
The search for the next football coach at Santa Maria High will begin immediately.