BUTTE VALLEY — Craig Rigsbee spent most of his adult life investing his time and energy into students who were considered at-risk. Many were athletes in need of a bridge to get to a higher level of competition.
He helped transform a losing football team to a nationally renowned program — one that has produced everything from NFL stars and Hall of Famers to full-ride scholarships and successful careers.
Rigsbee, the boisterous athletic director for Butte College since 2005, and the most successful football coach in Butte College history formally announced his retirement on Dec. 18. His last day at Butte College is Jan. 4, 2021.
“I haven’t worked a day in 37 years,” Rigsbee said. “I’m most proud of my legacy of helping kids. I’m hoping I leave (Butte College) better than when I got here.”
Rigsbee spent 37 years at Butte. During his 16-year tenure as the head football coach, he racked up a record of 136-33-2, captured 10 conference championships and made 15 bowl appearances.
As a former doorman and bartender at Madison Bear Garden, Rigsbee was hired by Mike Liddell, then-football coach and athletic director, to become the part-time offensive line coach. He was 24-years old.
“He had that special drive, ambition and loyalty,” Liddell said. “There are certain people that you meet in your life and you know they’re special people.”
Though Rigsbee wasn’t much older than the players he was coaching, he immediately wanted to make a difference.
“I got to this program and it was really one of the worst programs in the state,” Rigsbee said. “We only won one game and we got blown out by everybody.”
It was during a blowout loss to Sierra College when Rigsbee came up with the phrase “BC pride.”
Rigsbee recalled Butte being down 49-7 when Sierra called a timeout to kick a 52-yard field goal as time expired to win 52-7. An irate Roadrunners coaching staff expressed frustrations at Sierra’s coaches. But Rigsbee directed his anger elsewhere.
“I was so mad,” Rigsbee recalled. “I yelled at (the team) ‘We’re terrible. We got drum rolled because our team is not good enough. You have no pride in yourself and you have no pride in your school. We need to get more pride. We need to get BC pride.’”
“I should have done that before the game,” Rigsbee quipped.
And from there, the phrase ‘BC pride’ stuck. Much like Alabama’s ‘Roll Tide’ or Cal’s ‘Go Bears’, BC pride became the moniker for all Butte College athletics, not just football.
Always wanting to help
Rigsbee’s passion for helping athletes came from his own experience. He attended Hartnell junior college out of high school and relied on his high school football coach for help.
“I grew up very, very impoverished. I grew up with nothing,” Rigsbee said. “Every kid I ever saw, I could see myself in them.”
Every Thursday night, Rigsbee would take his linemen out for dinner. It was a chance to build camaraderie and there was no talk of football, Rigsbee said.
“It was so fun getting to know those kids and letting them get to know me just as a person, not just as a coach,” Rigsbee said.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea played offensive line under Rigsbee from 1990-1991. He still remembers the Thursday night dinners at Madison Bear Garden with Rigsbee and his teammates.
Honea, a graduate from Anderson High School, originally contemplated going to Shasta College.
“When I had inquired about playing football there I didn’t get a very welcoming reception,” Honea said. “On a whim, I decided to go to Butte College.”
Fresh on Butte’s campus, Honea, still interested in playing football, found his way into Rigsbee’s office. The two met and Honea was graciously welcomed by Rigsbee to play on the offensive line.
“He was always trying to encourage players and get the best out of them,” Honea said. “In my view, he really had a sense that he cared about the players and were trying to help them move on.
“I hold a special spot in my heart for Butte College and the education I got there.”
Rigsbee devoted time on and off the field to help his players overcome the challenges and struggles of life.
“I said when I came in I just want to make the world a better place and I was going to do it one kid at a time,” Rigsbee said. “In my small way, I think I’ve done that.”
Larry Allen, the NFL Hall of Fame offensive lineman who flourished in his career with the Dallas Cowboys, got his start at Butte College. It’s turned into one of the most notable success stories Rigsbee boasts about often.
Allen had a rough childhood growing up in Compton. He was stabbed multiple times by a neighbor while defending his brother. He had transferred from four different high schools.
“He didn’t do very well in school,” Rigsbee said. “He survived. He didn’t get killed.”
Allen wound up enrolling at Butte College. He didn’t graduate high school, but Rigsbee helped him get his GED. On the field, Allen helped the Roadrunners to two winning seasons and conference championships.
“He was dominating here,” Rigsbee said.
Allen then went to Division I Sonoma State and was later drafted in the second round to the Cowboys. But for Rigsbee, the success doesn’t end with Allen being named an NFL Hall of Famer. It continues on with Allen’s children.
“Because of Butte College, his kids went to ivy league schools, his son graduates from Harvard just one generation past him,” Rigsbee said. “That is changing a generation. The Allens aren’t going to get stabbed in the arm, they’re not going to be impoverished. The whole paradigm shifted. It’s awesome to think about that.”
Aaron Rodgers, the Chico native and Green Bay Packers quarterback, went unrecruited out of Pleasant Valley High School.
With Rodgers going to Butte it led him to a scholarship to play at Cal. Now, he’s a Super Bowl champion and a two-time NFL MVP.
“We’ve had thousands of kids use (Butte College) as a platform to become businessmen, doctors … I think our football program put our school on the map,” Rigsbee said. “When everyone thinks of Butte College with all the things like Aaron Rodgers … on a national level, people think of football. That has been such a cool thing.”
Life as an athletic director
In 2005, when Rigsbee was named the athletic director, his priority was finding a way to upgrade the facilities on campus.
“I looked around and we had one of the worst facilities in California — terrible locker room, weight room, fields,” Rigsbee said. “Even though our football program was really good we had (subpar) facilities.”
Rigsbee elevated the fundraising events for all the sports to help generate money. Alongside Liddell, the pair started the Spring Gala. The annual Butte College crab feed has sold out every year for 12 years. The softball team hosts a pasta feed and the Butte College Athletic Hall of Fame has become a staple event.
Just last year, the football field was renovated with a new scoreboard, press box, bathrooms and concession stand while a new athletics and kinesiology building featuring a brand new weight room was unveiled.
Becoming the athletic director was Rigsbee’s opportunity to help all the athletes, not just football players.
“We get these kids at a time when they’re very needy. A lot of minority students and a lot of first-year students. They’re academically deficient,” Rigsbee said. “We get a lot of kids who are needy because they’ve had nobody to help them. People used to say ‘Rigs you do too much for these kids.’ I would look at them and say ‘Well if not me, then who? Who’s going to help these kids?’”
Rigsbee said he could have moved up coaching at a higher division or at a bigger school, but being at Butte felt right.
“He just has that quality that you find in people … the big heart and the big personality,” Liddell said. “If he had decided he wanted to go big time, he could have been one of the top college coaches at any level in America today.”
Life after retirement
The once decorated walls of Rigsbee’s office are now virtually bare.
Awards, various mementos and photos that were collected over the span of 37 years are now packed away in boxes ready for Rigsbee to haul home.
In a way, Butte College has served as home for Rigsbee and his family. His sons Tyler and Jordan both attended Butte and later went on to play for Cal.
“My whole adult life I spent here. It’s been a great school to raise my kids,” Rigsbee said. “It’s really built a great life for my family and my kids. It gave me a platform to help a million other kids.”
Rigsbee said he doesn’t quite know yet what he’ll do post-retirement. He’s been spending his free time working out and has lost 60 pounds since the pandemic started. However, one thing Rigsbee is certain of is he will not take a job at another junior college.
“There isn’t anyone who’s banged the Butte College drum louder than I have,” Rigsbee said. “I truly believe that this has been my life’s calling. This is where I’m supposed to be.”