For about 10 years, Stephen Liska wondered what things would be like as a head football coach. The offers were there, but the situation had never been right.
Instead of packing up and leaving Pleasanton for other opportunities, Liska stayed with the only school district he has known.
That patience paid off for Liska, and the Falls City native will have his first game as the Eagles head coach when the season kicks off Friday against San Antonio Edison.
“There’s nerves, obviously,” the 25-year Pleasanton ISD employee said. “It’s natural to be nervous. It’s a new situation. It’s a new atmosphere. I’m the guy that now everybody’s going to be looking at.”
Liska, who has been the Pleasanton defensive coordinator for the past 17 seasons, takes the place of Tab Dumont, the Eagles’ all-time wins leader with 120. Dumont was promoted to full-time athletic director in January.
“You don’t stay in a job as long as I did and not want your next man up to be your No. 1 guy, and for 17 years, coach Liska was my No. 1 guy,” Dumont said. “It was very important to me that whenever I did step down from this program that it was in good shape. And the program is in excellent shape…It had to be that way for me. And I’m grateful and thankful that it worked out that way.”
Liska would not have wanted it any other way either.
“There’s always a reason why,” he said. “I’m glad God had a plan, and this is the plan right now. We’re going to see how it goes.”
Dumont and Liska have worked together since they started under longtime Pleasanton coach Hank Kotzur. Although Dumont said the two have different personalities—calling himself “dry” compared to Liska—he knows they share the same intentions for the program.
“One thing we talked about is that he needed to be his own man,” Dumont said. “He couldn’t change who he was, because how he was, the way he was coaching and the way he treated kids is what got him this job. He didn’t just get it because he was my defensive coordinator. He got it because what he was doing was right.”
Among the things Liska said he learned from Dumont was keeping the students at the forefront of every decision.
“Take care of the kids and make sure you’ve got their best interest at heart,” Liska said. “You’re never going to please everybody, and it’s not going to be easy at times, but trust your gut and what you feel is right for the kids, the community and the coaching staff.”
Dumont and Liska both said they were like brothers. And like brothers, Dumont has given Liska advice and said he has an open door for the new man in charge.
“He’s putting his mark on the program, but it’s also nice to see that a lot of the things that I have built around here and I carried on from coach Kotzur are still going on and will go on for a long time,” Dumont said.
Liska also serves as the powerlifting coach. During his time with PISD, he has been in a variety of positions from junior high PE teacher to assistant principal at the high school. But going into education was not always the plan.
Liska began his studies at Bee County College in hopes of becoming a psychologist. After learning of the amount of schooling involved—which he said was about eight years—he decided to change course.
The son of a nurse and teacher, Liska got some poignant advice from his parents after graduating high school.
“They sat me down and basically told me there’s always going to be people that are going to be sick, and there’s always going to be people that are going to need to be educated,” he said.
Liska studied biology so he could either teach or go into the medical field. Ultimately, he decided to be a teacher and coach like his father. Liska said the two professions go hand in hand.
“I’ve always felt that if you’re a good coach, you’re a good teacher and vice versa,” he said. “Like Coach [Chuck] Black on our staff is probably one of the best teachers over there at the high school, and he’s a very good coach. I feel like most coaches on our staff are like that…You’ve got to be a good teacher, otherwise your message is not going to get across, and you’re not going to be successful.”
One thing about Friday’s game is certain. A first-year head coach will be victorious. Edison is also breaking in a new coach, and Liska knows it will be quite the experience. But it will be an experience he has been waiting for.
“It’ll be neat. A lot of people are excited for me and for Eagle football because it’s that time of year,” he said. “But I think a lot of it’s going to be more excitement. It’s nerves, yeah, but I’m just kind of ready. Let’s see what happens.”