The school year isn’t over, but we’re well into the off-season for the major high school sports, football and basketball. And that means the usual major renovation projects are underway as new coaches are hired in time to begin organizing their summer programs.
One of the biggest projects is taking place at Westwood High School in Mesa, where that school has to start from scratch in both its football and its boys’ hoops programs.
Westwood is bucking the trend of late that has athletic directors sorting through piles of dozens of resumes, looking for a head coach with many years of experience, a glowing record, and at least one state championship under his belt. The Warriors, instead, are going for youth.
The football program is being handed over to a 26-year-old assistant coach from Queen Creek High School. Spencer Stowers inherits a once-proud program that managed just one win this past season.
When the 2011 season wrapped up, there were fewer than 40 players left on the varsity, but spring practice has attracted more than double that number. So perhaps just the idea of a change at the top was enough to build some enthusiasm.
Meanwhile, Westwood’s athletic director, Reggie Castro, has given the keys to the gym to Hosea Graham, who was the boys’ JV coach at Phoenix Mountain Pointe High School last season.
Graham does have head-coaching experience, leading Seton Catholic to the state finals in 2004 and again in 2006. He, too, takes over a program that has declined from its glory years and finished last season 14-14, which led to the resignation of six-year head coach, Paul Wilson.
Mountain Pointe and Basha High in Chandler have also changed head coaches in their basketball programs, with both schools opting for experience over betting on the up-and-comers.
And, in both situations, the successful candidate used a high-profile reference to help them rise to the top of a crowded field of hopefuls.
Aaron Windler, who got the Mountain Pointe job, pulled in a recommendation from Arizona State‘s head coach, Herb Sendek. Basha’s new coach, John Burns, went even higher up the ladder to get his endorsement, snagging one from former NBA star and current President of Basketball Operations at the Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge.
Both bring college-level coaching experience to their prep jobs.
Windler, 37, has coaching stops at a couple of Scottsdale schools, Coronado High School and Chaparral High, compiling a combined 85-60 record. He was most recently at Chaparral, where his resignation a couple of seasons back was attributed to a situation with parents (gee, how unusual). His Chaparral teams played for the state championship twice.
Windler was also an assistant at Glendale Community College for four years. He takes over a team that finished 15-13 last year and is predominantly underclassmen.
At Basha, Burns will be bringing four years of experience at Gilbert High School, where he won 27 games in 2004 before jumping to the college level, taking a job at a junior college in Kansas.
He will take over a 22-7 program that is loaded with talent – with Division I prospects in three returning starters – but were unable to get past the second round in last year’s state tournament.
Back to the football side, Westwood is not the only high-profile program undergoing major renovation work. A couple of Mesa schools have hired new general contractors (aka head coaches).
Angelo Paffumi is hard at work at Skyline High School laying the building blocks for a football program that hasn’t won more than three games in a season since 2008. The Coyotes are 6-26 over that period.
Paffumi, an assistant coach at Desert Ridge High School last season, will have his work cut out.
Dobson High School has a football program that is also long past its prime, going back more than 20 years to scare up a season with at least seven wins. The Mustangs went 2-7 last year and won just two games in each of the previous two seasons.
So a bigger job requires a bigger shovel. Dobson is bringing in George De La Torre, who has become something of a turn-around specialist in Arizona high school football.
The 60-year-old head coach turned things around at South Mountain High School in Phoenix, taking them from four wins to 10 wins and a spot in the playoffs in just three years. After that, he turned a 1-9 team at Florence High School into a 12-2 program, again in three years.
Now he wants to show it can be done at Dobson – but that will probably take an even bigger shovel.