Photo by Thomas Cordova
A legend in the Long Beach soccer world and a coaching icon at Millikan High, longtime Rams boys’ soccer coach Rod Petkovic has confirmed he will retire at the conclusion of this season. It’s his 38th year coaching the Millikan boys’ soccer team and 40th year at the school as a coach. Petkovic retired from teaching at the school not long ago and said it’s time to step away from coaching as well.
“This is the last season for me, end of the line,” he said. “I don’t want to be buried in the middle of the field.”
Petkovic’s resume at Millikan is impressive and incomparable. Petkovic led the Rams boys’ soccer teams to three CIF-SS championships, in 1992, 2001, and 2012, as well as a runner-up finish. The Rams have won 23 league championships in the 37 years that the Moore League has had the sport, including a record eight in a row from 2008 to 2015. The team holds the CIF Southern Section record for league games without a loss, with a 55-game unbeaten streak from 1998 to 2002; the Rams have another streak at No. 7 in the top 10 list. Petkovic has won more than 700 games as the coach of the Rams, and coached more than 1,000 games.
As impressive as all of that is, Petkovic also coached track and field and cross country at the school, and led Millikan to the 1983 CIF-SS championship in track and field.
But his impact goes beyond the impressive collection of trophies he’s brought to the school. Petkovic was one of the loudest voices in convincing the Moore League and the Long Beach Unified School District to add boys’ soccer as a sport 38 years ago. He is the first and only coach that Millikan has ever had for boys’ soccer.
“When I got to Millikan 40 years ago, there was no soccer,” he said. “For a while after we got soccer, I coached all three–track, cross country, soccer. I enjoyed coaching all of them, but there wasn’t enough time to coach them all to my satisfaction.”
Petkovic’s coaching tree is widespread and legendary, and includes Millikan girls’ soccer coach Tino Nunez, who played for Petkovic and then went on to a professional career before returning to his alma mater as a girls’ coach, winning the school’s first league title in 28 years last season.
“We’re close,” said Nunez. “It’s sad for me to see him leave, but he’s done his time, and he’s been incredible in terms of what he’s accomplished.”
Petkovic has been famously passionate about his team defending its home field, so perhaps it’s fitting that the Millikan muck and grass will be retired a few months before him. The school will begin replacing the Millikan field with artificial turf and an all-weather track in January. The reduced space due to construction on campus has caused some headaches for Petkovic and the other Millikan coaches.
“We’ll have a baseball outfield with three boys teams, three girls teams, three baseball teams, and four lacrosse teams,” said Petkovic. “And there’s no lights. We’ll be playing our games at nights at Vets, but you know me. If I get a little patch of grass then I’m happy. Unfortunately it’s more like PE class than coaching because of the space.”
Petkovic isn’t announcing his retirement ahead of time in order to create a farewell parade, either. As always, the man who sunk 40 years worth of coaching stipends back into his programs was thinking about Millikan first.
“I wanted to let them know in advance because I was hoping we’d get a teacher on campus to take my position,” said Petkovic. This year, he has longtime head coach Jeff Schofield (who coached Marina for 13 years) as his lead assistant, and the expectation is that Schofield will take over for Petkovic next season.
Petkovic’s teams have been remarkably consistent. It’s been 12 years since the Rams went back-to-back years without winning the league title, and that was the first time it had happened since 1990-91. Still, as his career draws to a close, there’s no doubt the sun is shining more brightly on Wilson and Cabrillo. The Bruins won their first league title in decades last season, and the Jaguars won the CIF State Regional title, the first in school history.
Petkovic isn’t bitter about seeing success at the other schools–especially not in the sport he helped bring into prominence in the city and school district.
“It’s all about the kids,” he said. “I’m happy. In past years I had kids from Jordan train with us for track or cross country, Lakewood girls would come and we’d coach them in the hurdles. Sometimes people forget what we are there for. It’s not just about the W, if you’re only there for that you shouldn’t be there. You’ve gotta help them all.”