Who would have known that the recruitment of Rob McNab would be instrumental in rewriting the Alberta high school football history book?

After 33 years of coaching the Cochrane Cobras, McNab announced his retirement at the team banquet on Mar. 29 and spread the word on X (formerly known as Twitter) late last week during the school's Easter break.

Since then, the accolades have continued to roll in from the entire Alberta football community.

rob mcnabMcNab stayed on as head coach after retiring from full-time teaching but says it was time to follow through on the succession plan.

McNab retired from full-time teaching nearly two years ago, though he does continue to sub at the school. He says the succession plan has been in place for a few years, and it was time to act. 

"I'm not in the building every day and those guys take care of the majority of the things. It's time that they take it over and get what's due to them. They're doing a great job, and I couldn't be leaving the program in better hands."

Still, making the announcement at the banquet was tough. It didn't just wrap up his last 33 years at Cochrane High, but something that he's cherished since he was a teenager.

"It was quite emotional. I had a little bit more to say but couldn't really get much out because this has been pretty much a life journey for me, I spent 33 years there. Bruce (O'Neill) was already there, and we started to learn how to win together. Then I've been with these guys for three or four years. Since the 10th grade, so back in 1970s, I've had football in the fall, and it's been a big part of my life."

mcnab and o'neillBruce O'Neill, left, and Rob McNab were entered into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame together for the dynasty they lead at Cochrane High.

The Cobras established the new records for most consecutive wins and provincial championships in Alberta high school football history while McNab was co-head coach, then head coach. McNab has won pretty much every award you could think of in his football career, and we've helped to document some of them over the years. A signature piece is being a three-time member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame as a member of the Calgary Dinos, Calgary Colts and Cochrane Cobras.

READ MORE: Two of the best enter Alberta Sports Hall of Fame together

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READ MORE: Unbelievable! Seventh straight provincial championship for Cobras

What he rightfully takes pride in is the culture they've built over the years.

"There's no question. We want those kids to walk out educated, we want them to be good citizens, not only for the school, but for themselves, for their family, for their community and just do the right thing. We teach that, we harp on it. We tell the kids, this is the way it goes in this culture, and I think in the end, they totally respect that and become better people for it."

He says a football team is the ideal place to do it.

"We have these large rosters, and everybody can fit in somewhere. I always tell parents, you know, playing time is about four per cent of what you give to football. The rest is a practice field, in the locker rooms, in the hallways, in the weight room, you know, going to a basketball game together as teammates."

It's also about giving back to the community.

"We really try. I mean, someone needs their block shovel we'll go shoveling or if they need garbage cleaned up, we'll go there. We try over the years to go out and find stuff for these kids to do, and to be good citizens. Let's do the right thing, because you're not only representing yourself, but you're also representing the past, present and the future of that program and whoever wears that jacket."

When some coaches transition out of a program, they secretly hope the program faulters. McNab wants nothing to do with that mindset.

"I want it to thrive. I want it to be bigger and better and stronger. And I think that Coach Knitter and that group have that capability. They now have the field, and the parent groups are there. Let's just keep the legacy of that program going."

READ MORE: WATCH: Firing up the Cobras for provincial championship game

While he's been in the forefront as co-head coach and head coach, he says it's always been a team effort involving everyone from the players to the coaches to the parents.

"There's a big, huge picture and I think that's where Cochrane High has excelled in making it a school community culture that everybody has a part in. It's just been fantastic. I've had unbelievable support for those 33 years."

Cobras defensive coordinator Tom Knitter is very much a product of the Cobra culture. He was a Cobra before playing three seasons for the UCalgary Dinos (2011-2013) appearing in three national semi-finals and the 2013 Vanier Cup at defensive back before taking on coaching duties with the university team.

"I can't talk enough about what coach McNab has done for me and just the example that he set in terms of leadership and in terms of giving back to the school, to the community, and to the kids.

"It's been a whirlwind of a ride for us. My first year playing for him, I think, was in 2005, and we spent the last year coaching together, so it's been an absolute joy. I've loved every minute of it."

He says it's difficult to lose a calibre of a coach like McNab.

"At the end of the day, I'm thankful for the time that I got to spend coaching with him, and I'm thankful for his contributions to the program and the countless young men that he's helped guide during his time at Cochrane High."

Knitter says the school will be going through an interview process after the spring break to determine who will become the head coach. 

"Certainly, there's going to be a little bit of change as some of the coaches that have been around for the McNab era are considering what they are going to do moving forward, but for the core guys, we're returning. We have a great group of school coaches and a nice mix of community coaches as well." 

Still, you can't expect McNab to drop out of sight. Come football season, he'll be around the field on occasion. He's been a guest speaker at football sessions in the past and would be game to do more.

His topic of choice?

"I think Cochrane High has just always been up there because of the culture we've built. That's things that I love speaking about."

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