ACU breaks pattern with hiring of football, softball coaches

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                </div>  An important aspect of Arizona Christian University‘s branding effort through its sports programs has been the hiring of high-profile coaches for the major programs in an effort to gain […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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An important aspect of Arizona Christian University‘s branding effort through its sports programs has been the hiring of high-profile coaches for the major programs in an effort to gain some instant credibility and give the recruiting effort a leg up.  But the school’s latest hires, particularly its first-ever head football coach, don’t seem to be following that pattern.

The small NAIA school in West Phoenix recently announced it will be adding football to its growing list of 16 intercollegiate athletic programs, with play beginning with the next school year, and said it would begin a national search for a head coach to begin the building process.  It appears the search committee didn’t get beyond the state’s borders, settling instead for a high-school coach right in its own back yard.

Donnie Yantis, the 42-yard old head coach at Paradise Valley High School, has also coached at Glendale High School, but his college experience appears to be limited to some time spent at Glendale Community College as that program’s recruiting coordinator.  His record at PVHS was evidently enough to impress Arizona Christian administrators.  Yantis is the winningest coach in the school’s history, compiling a 94-70 record in 14 seasons that included nine state playoff appearances.

But he doesn’t have the name recognition of the some of the other ACU hires, including most recently in the baseball and women’s basketball programs.

Doyle Wilson is a former Major League player and scout for the Arizona Diamondback who built the Chandler-Gilbert Community College program into a national contender; Doyle took over the baseball program in 2011 after an interim coach spent the first year getting the program off the ground.  And Jerry Conner is an Arizona Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach who spent 32 years building his reputation as the boys’ coach at Shadow Mountain High School, and was hired to take over a struggling women’s basketball program at ACU.  His impressive credentials weren’t enough at the college level, however, and he lasted just two seasons.

The hiring of Yantis shortly before Christmas at least follows the pattern of hiring coaches with local ties since in-state recruiting is critical to the university’s success.  All of its programs rely heavily on recruiting from the pool of local talent in Arizona, those players who don’t first get scooped up in the recruiting nets of Arizona’s four Division I universities.

But that’s where the other hire this month, selecting Jay Pyron as the new head coach for the softball program, also diverges from the norm.  He has the college experience that Yantis lacks, but doesn’t have Arizona roots.

Pyron has put in 10 years at the collegiate level, most recently at University of Evansville, a D-I school that he took from last-place expectations to a conference runner-up finish last season.  His most notable other college coaching gigs was three years spent as an assistant at North Carolina State.  He was also an assistant last year at Evansville, but was the head coach four years prior to that at Murray State, another D-I program, where he took his teams to the conference tournament three years.

Yantis also enjoys local support from some of his coaching fraternity in the Valley, including Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, who says the ASU coaching staff “has the utmost respect for him.”  He adds that Yantis “is a great teacher of the game, constantly seeking ways to improve himself as a coach, and very detailed-oriented.”

Norvell says he feels Yantis is “a top-notch choice to begin the football program at Arizona Christian University.”

Yantis steps into a program that apparently is beginning to generate some buzz.  “The response from the community to our decision to start football has been outstanding,” says ACU President Len Munsil.  “Already more than 200 student-athletes have filled out recruiting questionnaires expressing interest in joining ACU’s first squad.”

When announcing the addition of the program back in September (phxfan article posted Set. 13), Munsil pointed out the niche that he feels exists in the marketplace of college athletics for another football program in the state.

“We believe in the quality and depth of Arizona high-school football,” he says, “and we believe, as the only small college football program in the state, that we can attract and compete nationally by recruiting outstanding local athletes.

“We will recruit nationally, but we will start here in our back yard.”

(Photo: ACU Athletics)