WATSONVILLE — Ed Kelly has witnessed the St. Francis High boys’ basketball team sprout from a young seedling into a mature, flourishing program.
But after after 14 years of rebuilding teams, hours of practice sessions and watching numerous student-athletes grow up, Kelly said it’s time for him to step down.
“It’s been a lot of fun, but I’ve been doing it for a long time,” he said. “I just wanted to take some time off to spend with my family and spend on some other things for a little bit.”
St. Francis announced Sunday that assistant coach Duncan Edwards was promoted to the head coach position for the upcoming season.
Edwards, 75, spent the past five years working alongside Kelly where he played a critical role in propelling the team to various playoff appearances and championships.
“If you’re gonna take over a program this is the one you wanna take over,” Edwards said. “Ed (Kelly) is a very good coach, to start with. But we have extremely good students...I enjoy being around them and the entire school atmosphere is fantastic.”
Edwards, a Vietnam veteran officer who lost his leg during the war, has an extensive coaching background that includes positions at Moreland Notre Dame, Watsonville High, Pajaro Valley High and North Monterey County High.
Edwards coached the Wildcatz’s junior varsity team for 17 years and also spent a year with the Grizzlies before taking over the Condors about 10 years ago.
Now he leads a program that has not missed the postseason since the first basketball dribble took place inside the school’s gym.
“I’ve coached for quite a few years and this is very different than any place I’ve ever been and I just absolutely love being there,” Edwards said.
The legacy begins in...Indiana?
Kelly, 52, has coached basketball programs at the high school and collegiate levels for the past 32 years.
Prior to that, Kelly was a senior at Stanford when he remembers receiving a call from Cardinal assistant coach Barry Collier, who told him he was on his way to coach at Butler University and he needed an assistant to come along.
Without any hesitation, and not knowing exactly where Butler was located, Kelly accepted the job and began his coaching career in Indiana.
Kelly left Butler in 1998 to turn around the program at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis.
In 2005, Kelly moved back to Watsonville and Bob Winters, who was the athletic director and girls’ basketball coach at the time, asked him to coach the boys. The team began competing in varsity sports during the 2005-06 season and Kelly found success right off the bat.
In 14 seasons Kelly finished with a record of 356-203 and had more than 20 wins in the postseason.
Kelly was also highly recognized by his coaching peers, earning Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League Coach of the Year three times.
Kelly’s Sharks also qualified for the CIF NorCal playoffs three times.
The Sharks were SCCAL and Central Coast Section champions during the 2009-10 and 2016-17 seasons. They also finished with a perfect 12-0 record in league play those years.
In 2017, St. Francis won the NorCal championship and was CIF State Division V finalists, losing a heartbreaker against Rolling Hills Prep, 47-46.
Edwards was part of that magical run. He remembers how much work Kelly put in not just for that season but for the entire time that he’s been there.
“The main thing with Ed (Kelly) is he’s very intelligent and he’s done it a long time,” Edwards said. “He does not get emotionally involved in the game and he’s able to strategize throughout the entire game.”
When Kelly first started he said he never thought he’d coach the Sharks for as long as he did.
“At that point I really thought I’d do it for a couple of years and just get them started, get them going,” Kelly said. “The next thing you know I had a lot of friends who had kids and grew up, started coming to the school and through the (basketball) program.”
Kelly said he was a little concerned at first because, after all, these were kids he knew on a personal level.
“But I was really fortunate that I had really good kids and I had good parents,” he said. “It became really enjoyable and I really had a good time with it...I enjoyed the building process of the program and I enjoyed the times you get to spend with the kids watching them grow up and become great people.”
Ed Kelly was an assistant coach at Butler University and left in 1998 to turn around the program at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis. (The Pajaronian File)
The next adventure
Kelly said he’s going to miss the competition and rebuilding process of putting together a different team each year.
“I’ll miss that circle of relationships growing more and more,” he said.
Kelly isn’t going away for good, however, as he’ll transition into the role of director of basketball operations at the school.
“I’m more stepping aside than stepping away, I guess is the phrase that they’re using,” Kelly said.
The new role focuses on the administrative side of the sport and Kelly said he’ll be in charge of logistics for both the boys and girls teams, which includes scheduling, fundraising and anything else Edwards needs to help ensure the program continues to grow.
Kelly will also continue to serve as the school’s assistant athletic director.
“I’ll help Duncan (Edwards) in any way I can,” Kelly said. “The school was nice enough to let me be selfish and take that role where I’m stepping aside but I still get to have my hands on it a little bit.”
Last year, St. Francis went 17-7 overall, posted a 6-4 mark in the Pacific Coast Athletic League Mission division and was CCS DV semifinalist.
St. Francis dropped down a level to the PCAL-Cypress and will face crosstown rivals Pajaro Valley and Watsonville as well as Soledad, Gilroy and North Salinas.
The Sharks are also 17-0 against other high schools in Watsonville since the 2007-08 season.
Edwards said he enjoyed the time he spent coaching behind Kelly and having him around during his first year as head coach is going to be a big relief, especially after a huge chunk of the team won’t be coming back.
“What we did was tremendous for those five years,” Edwards said. “We maybe didn’t have the greatest players in the world but we succeeded every year.”
The Sharks graduated nearly every player from last year’s team, including Andrew Seymour, Jake Taylor, Joseph Ramirez, CJ Gomez and Kelly’s son, EJ. The only player expected back is senior forward Lawson Orradre.
However, Edwards said qualifying for the CCS playoffs is one of the top expectations and he also hopes to win the Cypress division this season.
Edwards said it’s going to take a lot of work because of the limited varsity experience, but the Sharks still have plenty of players that have been in the program for at least three years.
“I’m really looking forward to this. I think this is going to be an awful lot of fun,” he said. “I’ve coached for a long time and this is a tremendous opportunity.”
Editor's Note: This article will be published in the Aug. 23 edition of The Pajaronian.