Jesse Phillips has coached high school football for only three seasons, and this was his first year as an assistant at Foothill.
So when Mustangs head coach Scott Swartz resigned last weekend after four games to take a job in business in Utah, Phillips knew he needed to step up, despite his inexperience.
He and Chris Johnson, another Foothill assistant, were named interim co-head coaches Thursday for an 0-4 Mustangs team still reeling from their leader's sudden departure.
"We've just got to keep moving forward," said Phillips, a special-education teacher's aide at the Foothill Farms school. "Because I know this area and what the kids go through in their lives the people coming in and out of their lives I knew I needed to continue to try to provide the proper direction. Since the summer, I watched many of them grow into young men."
Swartz, in his first season at Foothill, brought an impressive résumé and installed a sophisticated pro-set offense popular with the players.
Swartz, 37, had been an assistant coach at San Jose State, Oregon State and Northern Arizona. He also had prepared film and scouting reports for then-49ers coach Dennis Erickson in 2004.
Swartz was named the Stockton Record's 2008 Football Coach of the Year after guiding McNair to the playoffs for the first time but left when his teaching job was eliminated during a round of layoffs. Swartz, who has two daughters, was unable to land a physical education teaching job in the region.
"It's not like we were 0-4 and I ran off," said Swartz, who was an off-campus coach at Foothill, which has undergone budget cutbacks of its own. "I have to do this for my family."
Johnson and Phillips understand.
"He's really a good guy," said Johnson, who is in his first year of coaching high school football and works for Verizon. "I saw his true passion for the game, and I learned a lot from him. But in the end, he needed to make money for his family."
Junior tight end-defensive end David Entwistle knew something was up when Swartz didn't show up for two practices and the Mustangs' game against Rio Linda on Sept. 14.
Still, Entwistle and the Mustangs were stunned when it was announced Monday that Swartz wasn't coming back.
"It's not what any of us wanted, but it happened, and now we have to move forward," Entwistle said. "I like coach Swartz, and I'm glad (the administration) didn't bring in a new coach from the outside. We have chemistry with these coaches.
"But if all the coaches quit, we'd still have a team," Entwistle continued. "We have a core group that's here for the long haul."
Foothill athletic director Bill Lum thinks the team is in good hands with Phillips and Johnson after seeing how they handled their leadership-under-fire roles against Rio Linda.
"The good part of this, from what I've seen, is the kids are responding to them and respect them," Lum said.
Foothill, which has a bye this weekend, plays at home next Friday against Natomas, which also was winless entering Friday's home game against Ponderosa.