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  • RANDY PENCH / rpench@sacbee.com

    Kirk Anderson is the first-year football coach at Mira Loma High School but works elsewhere. That isn't ideal, Anderson said, but it is a growing trend locally.

  • BRIAN BAER / Bee file, 2011

    Del Campo's Mike Dimino, recently retired from the California Highway Patrol, is one of the most successful off-campus coaches.

  • RANDY PENCH / rpench@sacbee.com

    Kirk Anderson is an off-campus head football coach at Mira Loma. "If I were on campus, there'd be more accountability for the players," he said.

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Preps Plus: School increasing going off campus, to retirees for head football coaches

Published: Thursday, Sep. 27, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Thursday, Sep. 27, 2012 - 5:52 pm

Kirk Anderson is the face of a growing trend among area high school football coaches.

Like his predecessors, the first-year Mira Loma coach is hard-working, ambitious and focused on building a successful program at the Arden Arcade school.

But unlike most of his predecessors, Anderson doesn't teach or work at Mira Loma. He is a physical education teacher at a North Highlands charter elementary school.

Anderson said that while being off campus isn't ideal, the Grant Community Outreach Academy, a dual immersion school where he teaches at McClelland Park, is only eight miles from Mira Loma.

"It's the best-case scenario as far as being off campus," Anderson said. "But if I were on campus, there'd be more accountability for the players. I could handle issues directly during the day instead of getting a phone call. And I could build a rapport with the teaching staff."

Persistent budget woes that have led to reductions in teaching and support staff at area high schools are having a ripple effect on head football coaching jobs, often viewed as the most high-profile position on campus, next to the principal.

Though coaching football has become almost a full-time job, and the program often sets the tone for a school's spirit and pride – not to mention being the primary extracurricular revenue producer – administrators are begrudgingly opting more and more to hire part-time help, with mixed results.

At least 13 area schools have off-campus football coaches, including eight with new coaches this season.

Some programs remain highly successful, such as top-ranked Elk Grove and No. 11 Del Campo. Elk Grove's Chris Nixon teaches off campus but within the district at an elementary school. Del Campo coach Mike Dimino was a California Highway Patrol officer until his recent retirement.

But schools such as West Campus and Encina, which have had a revolving door of off-campus coaches in recent years, only recently snapped respective 24- and 28-game losing streaks.

Mira Loma appears to have landed a gem in Anderson, a former high school and college quarterback. The reinvigorated Matadors are 3-1 after having won just two games in each of the previous two seasons.

But Foothill hasn't been so fortunate.

Scott Swartz, who had college and NFL coaching experience on his résumé, was hired earlier this year as an off-campus coach. But Swartz left the winless Mustangs after four games to take a job in Utah after searching in vain for an area teaching position. He has been replaced by assistants Jesse Phillips and Chris Johnson.

Some schools, unable to link a football job with a teaching position and with some already meager coaching stipends being reduced because of budget shortfalls, have opted to go gray.

Bella Vista's 63-year-old Tom Ingles, West Campus' Nate Harris, 62, and River City's Steve DaPrato, 62, all are retired teachers who returned to coach football this season. Encina's DeWayne Norris, 62, had not coached a down of football before this fall.

With districts continuing to tighten budgets, it's made the job of athletic directors even more difficult.

Foothill's Bill Lum said coaching instability is the worst he has seen in his 15 years as the school's athletic director.

"I've seen a real acceleration in coaching turnover in the last two years," said Lum, also Foothill's wrestling coach. "We're all in the same boat with the budget cuts, layoffs and the restrictions on hiring."

Lum said he has replaced all but two of his 17 head varsity coaches in the past three years.

When Allen Berg, who teaches at Foothill, stepped down as football coach last season, layoffs at the school meant Lum couldn't offer the new coach an on-campus teaching job.

Still, Lum got 20 applicants, including one from Anderson, a former Burbank, Rio Americano and Bella Vista assistant who decided at 31 he was ready for the challenge of running his own program.

The former Napa High School, Butte College and University of Mary (Bismarck, N.D.) quarterback also unsuccessfully sought head coaching jobs at Galt, Cordova and Central Valley of Ceres. Anderson said only Central Valley offered a teaching job with the coaching position.

But just when he figured he might have to wait another year, the Mira Loma job unexpectedly reopened in the summer, and he was hired.

Matt Costa left Mira Loma to become the coach at Kennedy. Paul Peterson, a 1991 Mira Loma graduate who had been a successful coach in Florida, became head coach at his alma mater. But Peterson departed Mira Loma in the spring for personal reasons.

Anderson became the Matadors' coach July 1, just six weeks before the start of fall practice.

"At first, it seemed like there weren't enough hours in the day," Anderson said. "From finding equipment, dealing with all the paperwork, to organizing practices, to setting up a study hall, it was rough. I'm still wearing a lot of hats, but it's getting better."

Anderson said his most challenging test has been winning over skeptical players who were interacting with their third coach in less than a year.

"The first day I walked in, I saw the looks in their eyes – 'I don't know if I can start fresh and put my trust into someone else,' " Anderson said. "I told them I couldn't control what happened in the past, that we had to move forward."

He also needed to change what had become a defeatist culture at the school of 1,600 students more famed for its academics – the International Baccalaureate program and Science Bowl teams are nationally recognized – than for its athletics, where the football team has had one winning season since 1996.

The Matadors, who play at unbeaten Dixon on Friday, have responded by outscoring their past two opponents 91-8.

"These kids deserve a lot of credit," said Anderson, whose coaching stipend of $3,400 may be reduced by 50 percent if a state school initiative fails to pass in November. "They've been able to quickly learn a new system (the triple option) and understand our expectations in a short period of time.

"We have some tough, gritty kids. … They like to play football."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Bill Paterson



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