This high school football offseason will be the shortest ever, and possibly the busiest when it comes to coaching changes.
The shortened and delayed football season by the COVID-19 pandemic ended in mid-April.
Fifteen Orange County football teams will have new coaches when action resumes in less than three months – the first full practices for the fall 2021 season can start on August 2, with the first games on August 20.
Rod Sherman is back as coach of Orange Lutheran. Sherman, the Orange Lutheran offensive coordinator during the Lancers’ development from a good small school program in the 1990s to a Trinity League powerhouse the following decade, and later a state championship-winning coach in the Colorado, replaced JP Presley who was fired. Yes, high school coaches are fired, especially coaches who don’t produce winning teams in this fiercely elite Trinity League.
Pat Harlow has resigned from JSerra, which has had a difficult 2021 spring season. Longtime assistant Scott McKnight replaced Harlow, who remains in the program as an assistant coach.
Aron Kaye takes over at Godinez where he was the school’s first football coach when it opened in 2007. Juan Viramontes, who was appointed interim coach at Katella when Jason Hitchens resigned a game in the spring season , was promoted to permanent head coach of the Knights.
Justin Utupo was named head coach at Northwood on May 11. He resigned two weeks later, making Northwood one of eight schools in the county still seeking a college football head coach.
Why all these resignations and openings?
“It’s a mixed bag,” said La Habra coach Frank Mazzotta, entering his 24th season with the Highlanders. âYou can look around and still see guys who are forever coaches. But I think now, more than ever, it’s getting easier to say that the pay doesn’t match the hours spent coaching football.
And, he said, COVID-19 may have changed the perspective of coaches as well.
âThe guys stayed home and said, ‘You know, it’s not that bad,’â Mazzotta said.
Of the many rentals made in recent weeks, Dana Hills has made it one of the most interesting.
Tony Henney is back in Orange County to lead the Dolphins program.
Henney, 44, coached Trabuco Hills in the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division Championship in 2014, his only season with the Mustangs. Prior to that, he coached six seasons at Nordhoff, his alma mater, where his teams won two CIF titles. After leaving Trabuco Hills, Henney coached two seasons at Westlake (with a 10-12 combined) and then at St. Bonaveture where the Seraphs were 14-17 in his three seasons.
At Dana Hills, he replaces Phil Skinner who resigned after the spring 2021 season. It was Skinner’s sixth season as the team’s head coach. Dana Hills had some tough seasons early in her tenure, including a 1-9 overall and 0-4 league final in 2016, a season in which the Dolphins lost all four of their Sea View League games by an average of 34 points.
Dana Hills football was placed in the Pacific Coast League, a league not as good at football as the Sea View League, prior to the 2020-2021 school year. It sounds like a proper competitive fit; Dana Hills went 1-1 in the Pacific Coast League. Other encouraging signs include a 6-4 overall record in 2019 and a 3-2 overall finish last spring.
What brings Henney to Dana Hills?
âI was looking for the right kind of situation where I could coach for the next 18 years and retire and walk the golf course,â said Henney who was a volunteer assistant coach at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo last fall. âIt fits all the categories my wife (Tess) and I had: great place to live, good school systems. And creating a program that has struggled for a while appealed to me.
Dana Hills athletic director Tom Faris gives Skinner credit for moving the football program in a positive direction knowing the team was going to lose a lot of games.
“My hat is to Phil for doing this because I know he’s going to take a beating during the process and he’s still on hold,” said Faris, who was on Dana’s football coaching committee. Hills who interviewed 14 candidates.
Henney has moved a lot over the past 8 seasons, and he knows people wonder how committed he really is to Dana Hills. Henney responds that his wife had an illness that required closer proximity to the UCLA medical center, hence the rapid departure from Trabuco Hills.
âWe absolutely loved Trabuco,â Henney said. âWe had a great staff and we won a CIF title. If my wife is not sick, we are not leaving.
Westlake fired Henney after a 3-8 in 2016, his second season at Westlake where he was replaced by Jim Benkert who did very well at Westlake before Benkert left to coach at Oaks Christian. So Henney became a trainer at Saint-Bonaventure. He resigned after the 2019 season, his third with the Seraphs.
Henney said he found training at a private school like St. Bonaventure not appealing to him.
âI did the school situation almost full time,â he says. âIt wasn’t for me.
The fact that Dana Hills football is no longer a part of this Coast View conference, which features some of the county’s best programming in its Sea View and South Coast leagues, has been a plus for Henney.
âDon’t think I would want to fight an uphill battle like this,â he said. “The situation Dana Hills is in now is a good time to get out of this and make the community of Dana Point proud.”
Open registration has prompted South County soccer players to choose schools other than Dana Hills, even when Dana Hills is the closest campus. Coaches in football programs that win league championships and playoff games may speak as if their teams are community teams, but their roster often includes transfers and students from outside their immediate hangout area.
It is in this environment that Henney hopes to stop the detours and make Dana Hills a destination.