It was a dizzying pace of coaching changes during January and February of last year at many of the top programs in Southern California. There weren’t as many big moves up north but there were a few that will put a little pressure on the new head coach taking over from the previous head coach. Go inside to see which new head coach in the state was once the Grid-Hoop National Player of the Year.
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1. MISSION VIEJO
Whenever someone who is one of the winningest head coaches in state history calls it a career, it’s a tough act to follow. But Chad Johnson being put in a position to lead the Diablos after the retirement of Bob Johnson (no relation) shows that the program wants to continue to aim for the very top. Bob Johnson retired with a reported record of 342-95-1 (third on the all-time state list) and had been Mission Viejo’s head coach since 1999. Chad Johnson is moving to South Orange County after being wildly successful as the offensive coordinator at St. John Bosco of Bellflower, which won CIF Open Division state titles in 2013 and 2016.
Former NFL linebacker Antonio Pierce is now at Arizona State after leading the Jackrabbits for several seasons. Along with Dominguez of Compton, they might be the one team that has been hurt the most by nearby St. John Bosco becoming so strong and a popular destination for talented players to attend. Poly has hired former St. Margaret’s of San Juan Capistrano head coach Stephen Barbee to be its new head coach. Bosco could be a powerhouse for 10 more years and still wouldn’t match Poly for its all-time state and national greatness.
3. ALEMANY (MISSION HILLS)
At first glance, it might not have made sense when Casey Clausen made the move from Calabasas to Alemany. The Warriors only won three games in each of the last two seasons while the Coyotes have been an explosive state-ranked club. But Clausen once played at Alemany and seems eager to stoke a renaissance. Brother Rick Clausen also will serve as offensive coordinator.
With Casey Clausen moving to Alemany, this school obviously looked to make a splash in finding a replacement and it did by landing a former Mr. Football State Player of the Year. The new head coach is former NFL linebacker Chris Claiborne, who was an assistant at Long Beach Poly last season. Claiborne has moved quickly to let it be known that not much will change as far as the program’s recent offensive proclivities. The 2005 Mr. Football honoree from J.W. North of Riverside (he also later starred at USC) will return one of the top groups of receivers in the state plus junior QB Jaden Casey.
5. OAKS CHRISTIAN
The Lions arguably have even more returning talent than any other school mentioned in this feature, including Mr. Football State Player of the Year candidate Kayvon Thibodeaux. There was a controversial change at the top of the coaching staff, however, as previous head coach Jim Benkert is now at Simi Valley. Former Cal-State Northridge All-American and Edmonton Eskimo Charlie Collins is now in that role. He was offensive coordinator previously. And in keeping with a tradition at Oak Christian of having former NFL standouts serving as assistants, the running backs coach will be none other than Eric Dickerson, NFL Hall of Famer and still holder of the NFL single season rushing record.
6. SERVITE (ANAHEIM)
Going back to the late 2000s and into the early 2010s, the Friars had some of their best teams ever under head coach Troy Thomas, who went to his alma mater at Crespi (Encino) in 2013. Thomas is back this season, hired at Servite two weeks after Crespi parted ways with him following back-to-back sub-par seasons. Scott Meyer, the previous coach at Servite, is now at University of Irvine where he’s replacing that school’s longtime coach, Mark Cunningham, who has retired.
7. FOOTHILL (PLEASANTON)
We last saw former Foothill head coach Matt Sweeney coaching the Falcons in softball, which is a sport he’s going to continue to coach next spring and may have one of the top teams in the state and nation. Sweeney will always be known for football at Foothill, however, and his replacement this season, Greg Haubner, obviously has some huge shoes to fill. Sweeney compiled a reported record of 265-94-5 at Foothill from 1986 to 2017 (with a four-year break that started in 2006) and had numerous teams that probably would have won section titles elsewhere in California but instead had to be in the same backyard as Concord De La Salle. Haubner was a head coach at Livermore from 2010 to 2015, but at the same time was an economics teacher at Foothill.
8. OAK GROVE (SAN JOSE)
Who was going to be the head coach of the Eagles this season was a contentious situation as a suspended previous coach, Jay Braun, put up a fight to keep it. In the end, Braun was dismissed and the new head coach will be Marcus Reese, a former all-state linebacker at the school in the 1990s who later played at UCLA. With Valley Christian (San Jose) just up the road, building continuity at Oak Grove and moving forward from a difficult situation will be the first steps for Reese and his staff.
9. RANCHO CUCAMONGA
The Cougars hired from within as former assistant and freshman coach Mark Verdi was tabbed to replace Nick Baiz, who cited family reasons when he stepped down as head coach in January. Baiz has had a State Top 20 team for each of the last two seasons and had a team in 2016 that got to 12-0 before having to play and lose to Mater Dei in the CIF Southern Section D1 semifinals. Verdi’s job was made more difficult when two highly-touted juniors from last year’s team, running back Sean Dollars and defensive back Jeremiah Criddell, both transferred to Mater Dei.
10. MOUNT MIGUEL (SPRING VALLEY)
When Troy Starr resigned as the head coach at Helix (La Mesa), he told the San Diego Union-Tribune that he wasn’t retiring because “I’ll be a football guy until the day I die.” The former head coach at Taft (Woodland Hills) and also an assistant under Urban Meyer at the University of Florida, Starr is going to continue to teach PE at Helix while being the next head coach at nearby Mt. Miguel. The Matadors were only 5-7 last season. Starr, who had an 83-18-1 record at Helix, also will teach one PE class at Mt. Miguel.
11. CITRUS VALLEY (FONTANA)
When it’s the Inland Empire and the last name Bruich is involved, it’s a big deal. Citrus Valley is going to be the new home of previous Redlands East Valley head coach Kurt Bruich, who directed that school to the CIF Division II state bowl game title in 2015. Kurt, of course, is the son of legendary Fontana head coach Dick Bruich. There’s a passage about them in our book, “High School Football In California.”
12. NEWPORT HARBOR (NEWPORT BEACH)
The headline in the Daily Pilot said it all: “The Jeff Brinkley Era is Over at Newport Harbor High.” Brinkley retired from his post after 32 years and 273 total victories (the last 244 with the Sailors). The school surprised some by not hiring from within and instead went with San Diego Mesa College’s Peter Lofthouse.
After last season when the Cougars earned a share of their league title, longtime head coach Mark Loureiro announced his retirement. He’s the winningest all-time coach in the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section with 281 triumphs and had eight section titles and a 2010 CIF D3 state crown. One of the Loureiro’s former quarterbacks, Andrew Beam, will be taking over as head coach. He’s been a teacher at the school for four years. We remember Loureiro raving about Beam when he played for him, about how he’d be a great coach someday.
14. MARANATHA (PASADENA)
As mentioned earlier, former Long Beach Poly assistant Chris Claiborne took the top job this off-season at Calabasas. Another former Poly assistant who took a top job was LaVar Arrington, who replaced Steve Bogan at Maranatha after Bogan took a job at Bonita of La Verne. If we were in Pennsylvania and not California, Arrington’s move into this role would be major news. He’s still one of the best linebackers that Penn State has ever had and later earned All-Pro honors with the Washington Redskins. He’s also one of the best high school linebackers in Keystone State history. When we were doing Student Sports’ national magazines in the 1990s, we had an issue with LaVar on the cover.
15. ST. MARGARET’S (SJ CAPISTRANO)
This school seems to make an intriguing hire every few years, going back to when they lured Harry Welch to go down there in 2007 after he had won a CIF state title at Canyon (Canyon Country) the previous season. This time, as a replacement for Stephen Barbee (Long Beach Poly), the Tartans have former Bishop Amat All-American Kory Minor. He was on that Amat team in 1992 that was No. 1 in the nation before getting upset by Mater Dei in the CIFSS D1 championship.
16. CATHEDRAL (LOS ANGELES)
After a couple of seasons coaching Bryce Young as a highly touted freshman and sophomore QB for the Phantoms, longtime head coach Kevin Pearson has stepped down. Pearson, who won nine league titles in 22 seasons, also had several other record-breaking players over the years, including reciever Earvin Johnson and quarterback Robert De La Cruz. Young has transferred to Mater Dei and just committed to USC.
17. ST. VINCENT DE PAUL (PETALUMA)
This school is the new home of former Casa Grande head coach Trent Herzog, who had his contract at Casa Grande not renewed for what was reported as a “mutual parting.” At Casa Grande, Herzog went 66-34 since 2009 and had 12 former players earn major college scholarships, including defensive tackle Elijah Qualls of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
MORE COACHING MOVES TO NOTE
Andy Diaz (El Toro, Lake Forest) from La Quinta (Westminster)
Atnaf Harris (Edison, Fresno) from Roosevelt (Fresno)
Pete Lavorato (The King’s Academy, Sunnyvale) from Sacred Heart Prep (Atherton)
Dameon Porter (Crespi, Encino) from Simi Valley
Jeff Steinberg (Beaumont) from Rancho Verde (Moreno Valley)
MORE TOP COACHES WHO’VE RETIRED/STEPPED BACK
Gary Blevins (Mira Mesa, San Diego)
Eric Reis (Manteca)