by Jim Mulligan
Reedley College has a newly appointed full-time, permanent, head football coach. Rob Hartenfels, while only recently chosen for the permanent position, has been at the helm of the Tiger’s football program for the last year. He also put in some time on staff as an assistant with the prior head coach. Additionally, Coach Hartenfels has an extensive experience in college coaching despite his relatively young age.
Hartenfels grew up in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, where he went to high school and college. He attended East Stroudsburg University. Football has been a staple for him from a young age that continued up through his college days. He attributes a lot of his success to the support of his parents, Darlene Picchianti and Rob Hartenfels, Sr.
While still in college, he jumped at the opportunity to coach with a national all-star team. From that experience, he leapt at further opportunities to continue growing his coaching experience. As many ambitious football coaches do, he bounced around a little as he climbed up the ladder. The impression he made at Reedley College back in 2018 and his work after that landed him the position last year at Reedley College for a one-year temporary spot at head coach.
What brought you to Reedley?
Rob: I was coaching football in California for ten or eleven years. I originally came to California working for the Army All American game, it’s a high school All Star game. The head coach of the West team was Bill Riddell, who was the coach at Oaks Christian High School, and he offered me a job when I was still in college. So, I moved out here when I was twenty-one to start coaching high school football. I got a maintenance job at the school so I could live. I was waking up at 5:00 in the morning doing maintenance, opening the campus, and then going to practice. I went on to start coaching some college ball and ended up in Quincy, Illinois. But I was getting interviews for jobs back in California, so I decided to move back and got a job here at Reedley College with Coach Marty in 2018. After that year, I took a defensive coordinator position in San Diego, but when Marty left I came back here to be the head coach at Reedley.
Rob: I think what I learned is that the Central Valley has the type of football players that I love best. It’s a place where there are hard working people, and it reminds me of my hometown in Pennsylvania where I grew up. For a lot of young men football is an opportunity to get an education. You know my father was a carpenter, which is amazing work and I respect the heck out of it, but it’s hard. While they are here to play football, they know they are here to get an education that will help them with their future. And at Reedley College we have the support system like few other JCs in the state. We have dorms and a great academic support staff. Reedley has the culture athletics and academics that we want out guys to be a part of.
With all the experience you’ve had at a fairly young age, what made you want to come and take a head coaching job at a little, rural college like Reedley?
Why are academics so important to the football program?
Rob: Education is a way for our guys to change the hands that they were dealt in life. A lot of our guys are first-generation college students. A lot of them come from inequitable situations. Being able to come here they learn what education can do for them, how a degree is going to help them make positive change, take care of their families, and set up that generational education path. You know, I think especially at the Community College level, it creates an environment of successful people that want to work hard together.
What do you see at your main goal as head coach at a junior college?
Rob: Matriculating our student athletes to the four-year level. And personally, for the least amount of money. There are so many schools that you’ve never heard of like, Eastern Tennessee Tech or North Dakota A&M, whatever it is, that all have scholarships for football players with good grades. My number one job is to take our current student athletes and get them to transition with a scholarship to a four-year level. That’s my number one job.
How does winning football games help that goal?
Rob: No matter what we believe in, even though academics and culture are first, no matter what, without winning, the notoriety on a national level won’t be there. When the wins come, coaches start to look our way take interest in our guys. Whereas, if we’re not winning, from a recruiting standpoint, we are only getting looks from schools in our back yard. Winning on the field brings the attention from around the country and coaches say some something good is happening, so let’s go see what they have to recruit.
What’s the challenge about working at the community college level?
Rob: I think the challenge in California community college is the lack of scholarships. You’re asking guys to go to class, go to practice, all on their own dime. A lot of guys have to work, a lot of guys that are local still have to go help mom and dad and pay bills and rent and pick up little brother or little sister from class. Early in my career I had kind of the four-year level mentality of like you gotta be here every day and it is what it is. Now that I’ve been in the junior college system a while now I’ve learned to be more willing to allow for these guys to handle everything they need to handle. They need to take care of themselves and family, get a job sometimes, and if that means missing a practice now and again we understand.
What’s the most rewarding thing about coaching at the community college level?
Rob: When you see a kid get a full-ride scholarship, especially like Tony from Orange Cove who thought he’d never play football in college and thought he go to work in the Valley. Tony came here during COVID and didn’t play football the first year, but he went to class. This was his first season and he didn’t even start a lot of games. He’s had a school offer a full $31,000 year to go to school and play football. It’s these kinds of opportunities that local guys might get that make this level very rewarding.
What’s your philosophy on recruiting to a small rural JC like Reedley?
Rob: The philosophy is to recruit guys that realize if you don’t go to class and you don’t go to study hall, you’re gonna have an issue and not like it here. We have to be brutally honest. This is not Los Angeles. This is not the Bay Area. You’re going to come here to focus on school and football and that’s it. Developing a close-knit culture with our players is also important.
What do we have to look forward to in 2022 football season?
Rob: This is our first recruiting class as a full staff. So, we’ve had a full season of recruiting and meeting the parents and zooming with the parents and so we’re excited ’cause we’re bringing in a lot of guys. These are guys that have had success, a lot of guys that we know are interested and excited about school and getting a degree. Not just playing football. I think more importantly, I personally have tried to recruit more heavily in the Central Valley, so I think a lot more local. So, we are bringing in more local guys than what’s been in the past couple years. Also, we are generating a lot of interest with four-year colleges, we’ve had over twenty-three 4-year schools attend our spring football practices. We’re looking forward to a great season to show off our talent.
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I asked a last question to one of Hartenfels players, tight-end and outside linebacker, Emmanuel Malek, from Dallas, Texas. I asked him how coach Hartenfels is different from other coaches Malek has had as a football player. Malek said, “He’s a special coach to me and my teammates. The difference between him and other head coaches is that he has a big heart and pushes our academics. His energy is out-the-roof! I appreciate every little thing this man brings to the table as my coach because without him I wouldn’t be the man I am today. Academics is number one for athletes. Coach Hart holds every student-athlete to a high academic standard.”
The Tigers will start the season this year with an away game at Shasta College. See the Tigers in their first home turf contest against Chabot College on September 10, 2022. Remember, home games are played at the Reedley High School football stadium. Go Tigers!
You can find more Reedley stories in our Reedley News section.