Here come the hires.
Winter Breaks are about to give way and it’s back to the grind for most schools and school districts. That also means the football coaching turnstiles are going to turn as interviews, second interviews and hirings will commence.
Unlike the past two winters — each a flurry of East Valley moves and shake ups — so far this offseason hasn’t projected to be as furious with four schools in search of new football coaches.
Of course, that doesn’t mean movement from one place to another won’t cause a bigger ripple effect. For now, however, let’s take a look at what each of these four schools has going for/against it as resumés are pooled and thinned, discussions begin and hirings are made.
Previous coach: Jeff Rathjen (interim)
2012 record: 1-9
Pros: “Fringe school” geographically which offers potential for population growth; promising group of underclassmen; program craving for stability and should attract young, energetic coach looking to make a mark; Recent history of success with a couple Div. I-college caliber athletes in the program the past five years (Cy Maughmer, Shane McCullen, Rusty Fernando).
Cons: Severe downturn of success and stability in past three years; losing kids to East Mesa/East Gilbert schools; “fringe” school but is the area growing?
Outlook: A product of coaching changes, difficult schedules during the previous two-year block and the loss of those Div. I-caliber athletes, A.J. has won three games in the past two years. After years of solid success under Rich Milligan (most recently in 2009), Justin MacDonald took over for the 2010 season before he resigned in late spring for family reasons, and the Prospectors were left in a lurch. Jeff Rathjen was the interim coach but showed little interest in being a permanent replacement. This program needs a lot of work and some time, but with the right hire, a different schedule and families willing to keep their kids at the school, a near-return to the Milligan glory days isn’t that far-fetched moving forward.
Previous coach: Lenny Abt (interim)
2012 record: 4-6
Pros: Moving up to Div. II in next two-year block could be appealing to many candidates; good facilities; track record of success; relatively affluent area despite being “land-locked”;
Cons: Moving up to Div. II could make success more difficult; questionable circumstances behind Jim Ellison’s sudden resignation late last summer; potential of losing kids to nearby schools such as Chaparral and Saguaro; enrollment among smaller-sized schools in Div. II;
Outlook: Two years ago, Arcadia played in the 4A Division II state semifinals. A return trip will be difficult having to go through the likes of Chaparral, Notre Dame, Marcos de Niza, Centennial, etc.. to get that far, winning seasons and playoff appearances are realistic here as Arcadia can compete among Section VII schools in Div. II. Whether it was Ellison or the parents/booster club that was ultimately part of his bitter leaving of the program depends on who you talk to, but either way it raises eyebrows. The serious candidate pool figures to be a nice mix of experienced coaches from around the Valley/state and some younger assistants from other top-notch programs.
Previous coach: Leland Rodgers
2012 record: 3-7
Pros: Div. I-sized with steady enrollment; solid demographics of families and a mixture of working class and slightly wealthier; school is having success at other sports (baseball, basketball, softball, volleyball);
Cons: Losing kids to nearby Chandler schools; significant budget cuts looming with budget override failing in last election?; “land-locked” doesn’t offer much room for population growth; questions surrounding Leland Rodgers firing;
Outlook: This was the most controversial coaching saga since Zane Zamenski at Corona del Sol in 2010, and whether Rodgers’ dismissal was fair by the administration or not, it will make qualified coaching candidates pause before considering whether to take on this job. Beyond that, the budget proposal failures from November elections could result in drastic cuts moving forward, mostly in available teaching spots, coaching/assistant stipends. That’s a big deal given how big football programs are and the ability to attract/retain teaching jobs and stipends is a significant factor in competing with the “Joneses.” Despite the possible brutality of being in Section I with Chandler schools and Highland, there is potential here for a rejuvenation of success if current and incoming families will keep their kids in the neighborhood, but questions surround the school over money, support and parental involvement.
Previous coach: Matt Gracey
2012 record: 2-8
Pros: Moving down from Div. I to Div. II was a must and welcomed sight to compete; similar potential to Gilbert High despite being a land-locked school; recent history of Div. I-college players (RJ Rickert, Trevor Kohl and Anthony Lopez); eight returning starters projected to return;
Cons: Gracey left (or was told to, depending on who you talk to) after two seasons; Campo Verde and other Chandler schools have declined Mesquite’s enrollment and left the school with awkward neighborhood boundaries; similar budget cuts looming? Gilbert Junior High closing means sharing Mesquite Jr. High kids with Gilbert High;
Outlook: After two years of one of the most difficult schedules in Arizona, the biggest boon for this job will be moving down to Div. II and sharing a section with Campo Verde, Marcos de Niza, Poston Butte, St. Mary’s and Westwood. The biggest drawback will be the budget and money issues possibly facing the rest of the district moving forward. The 2012 season figured to be a rebuilding one for Mesquite while optimism reigned for the retention of a strong senior-to-be class in 2013, but another reconstruction will commence. Beyond 2013, however, this could be a good job for an up-and-comer to cut one’s teeth because there will be up-and-down seasons. It’s also a decent spot for a coach who’s been around a few blocks before and might not require a teaching job on campus with possible budget problems looming (despite the difficulty succeeding using that approach).
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.