Oceanside football teams coached by John Carroll won 13 San Diego Section titles in his 26 years as coach.
OCEANSIDE — Outside of his family, John Carroll admitted football was the No. 1 thing in his life.
Health took a back seat.
Wednesday, the Oceanside High coach reversed his field, making his health a top priority as he announced his retirement as Pirates head coach after 26 years at the helm.
He will continue to work at the school or for the district in another capacity.
“My life isn’t at risk, but since I injured my brain my physical quality has been different,” said Carroll, 57.
Carroll, who took over the Oceanside program in 1989, finishes with a 248-75-6 record and an all-time best 13 San Diego Section titles. The Pirates also won state championships in 2007 and 2009.
Oceanside was 14-1 this season, winning the section Open Division title before losing to Folsom in the state Division I final in Carson.
But the season was a struggle for Carroll, who suffered blood clots in his neck and injured his brain after doing a face plant last season while playing scout team quarterback at a practice.
In previous seasons, he suffered knee and shoulder injuries after being run over on the sidelines.
“This injury was different than the others,” Carroll said. “I pushed and fought, but it just wasn’t getting better.
“For the sake of my health, I realized I can’t coach to the extent I’d like.
“I wanted to teach until I was 60 and coach until they buried me on the field.
“But, as they say, ‘Man makes plans and God laughs.’ ”
No one laughed when they played the Pirates, who won 76.7 percent of their games and made 22 straight trips to the section semifinals under Carroll.
“I loved coaching against John,” said Mission Hills coach Chris Hauser, who beat the Pirates twice last season but lost twice this season.
“He’s a 24/7 guy. He prepared all day every day. As an opposing coach you knew you had to prepare just as hard, so he put the pressure on everyone.
“You knew he’d be prepared for you. So you needed to be prepared for him.
“Playing Oceanside was exciting for me as a coach, and it was exciting for the players, too.
“I know Oceanside will do the right thing and hire a great coach, but it won’t be the same without John Carroll there.”
Oceanside school district Superintendent Duane Coleman, a former Pirates player, and Principal Ron Pirayoff indicated they will move quickly to replace Carroll, perhaps within the next few weeks.
Candidates could include offensive line coach Rick Gerardi, who has been on staff 25 years, and defensive coordinator Pulu Poumele, who played at Oceanside and has head coaching experience at San Marcos and El Camino.
“John’s decision threw me for a loop,” Gerardi said. “The last two years — this season in particular — have been hard for him physically. He should have been taking it easy, but he only knows one way, so he gutted it out.”
Asked if he would be interested in succeeding Carroll, Gerardi said, “I’d consider it under the right circumstances.
“I’m a behind-the-scenes guy, an offensive line coach.
“But I also know what it takes to win here. When John took over, it took us five years to win a league championship, and we didn’t win a CIF title until ’95.
“I don’t want this program to go back to the 6-6 days.
“John had drive and vision. He was intense. He put in the time and saw what worked.
“And the players bought in.”
Earlier this season, bookend defensive ends Amadeo West and Tommy Woo said pride — a sense of family — drove the Pirates.
“For a lot of us, our brothers, uncles and fathers played here,” Woo said. “We play for them.”
Indeed, Carroll’s sons — Tom, Steven and Jackson — all played for their father. And Peggy Carroll, John’s wife, is the team’s No. 1 fan.
JB Hunter, a junior lineman, said Carroll builds character in his players while building a legacy.
“Coach Carroll connected with us,” junior lineman Nick Zimmerman said. “He teaches right from wrong.
“We were really surprised when he told us he was retiring. We got choked up because he started to choke up.
“It didn’t matter who we were playing, that team was made up of all-stars and we had to play our best.
“He fought for us as people and players. And he stood right there next to you.”
That was the rub for Carroll.
Because of his injury, he was forced to coach from the press box on game day.
He sat on a chair at practice and used a bullhorn so as not to strain his voice.
“I hated the press box,” Carroll said. “You lose the intensity and emotion of the game up there.
“The kids are on the field fighting and competing, and I’m in the press box looking through a window.
“It was a pain in the rear.”
Carlsbad coach Thadd MacNeal played for the Lancers against Carroll, then put in 20 years as an assistant coach at Capistrano Valley and Los Alamitos before becoming the head coach at Lakewood.
“John Carroll was fun to coach against,” MacNeal said. “You better be prepared or you were in trouble.
“I’ve coached against the best coaches — guys like Bruce Rollinson (Santa Ana Mater Dei) and Bob Johnson (Mission Viejo).
“John Carroll is right there with the best of ’em.”