Major shifts taking place in top AZ prep football programs

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                </div>  As Blue Ridge High School shut down last week for spring break, the administration still hadn’t found a new head football coach to replace Paul Moro. Moro, somewhat of […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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As Blue Ridge High School shut down last week for spring break, the administration still hadn’t found a new head football coach to replace Paul Moro.

Moro, somewhat of a legend in the White Mountains after taking the Yellowjackets to 13 small-school state titles, resigned his position at Blue Ridge last December after 30 years directing the football program.  He left the Lakeside school to take over the football program at Poston Butte High School in Florence, a small community in Pinal County.

Since it’s been more than three months since Moro announced he was leaving Blue Ridge, news of his departure has moved to the back burner.  And the vacancy at his old school remains open as the school administration has struggled to find a replacement.  There evidently hasn’t been a stampede of coaches willing to take on the challenge of replacing a legend, and the kind of scrutiny and pressure-cooker expectations that come with that kind of high-profile job.

The 62-year-old Moro has won 319 games, more than any high-school football coach at one school in state history, and just 12 games shy of the record held by former Amphitheater coach Vern Friedli for most career wins. He has left his eventual replacement with a steep hill to climb as the Jackets went 12-2 last season and won the Division IV state championship – in a year that they were figured to be the underdog in the playoffs.

Now, a couple of additional high-profile coaching changes down in the Valley are making this off-season one of the most interesting in recent memory.

David Huffine‘s decision to step down as head coach at Scottsdale powerhouse Chaparral High School has that school’s coaching carousel spinning once again, after Huffine was handed the reins to the coveted job little more than two years ago.

Huffine took over a program that had won three consecutive state titles and guided his teams to an 8-4 record in 2012 and 12-2 last season when the Firebirds played for the state title, but lost to unbeaten Salpointe Catholic.

He had been elevated from offensive coordinator when Charlie Ragle left the program in 2011 to become the assistant director of football operations when Rich Rodriguez was hired as head coach for the University of Arizona football program.  Huffine is expected to stay on at Chaparral, but in a different capacity.

And finally, look no further than Mesa to find yet another high-profile coach jumping ship.  Basha High School has fielded good teams in recent years, but isn’t among the elite programs such as Chaparral and Blue Ridge.  But the head coach should probably be included in that category.

Bernie Busken compiled a 40-game winning streak when he coached at Mountain View High School in the ’90s and won three state championships there.  But he was forced out of that job when parents complained of his alleged abusive treatment of some of his players – and that caused more than a little stir when Basha hired him to take over that program in 2010.

To make matters even worse, the school had fired the coach that started the program eight years earlier, Tim McBurney, who had been doing a good job of winning games.  Busken wasn’t even living in the state at the time and his hire ignited a real firestorm at the Chandler school.

The program improved under Busken, at least based on the record.  McBurney had been averaging seven wins a season in recent years and went 8-4 the season of his dismissal.  Busken won nine games each of his first two years and took the school to the state semi-finals in his second season.  But his record the last two seasons looked a lot like what his predecessor had been accomplishing: 7-4 in 2012 and 6-6 last season.

Like Huffine, Busken is leaving of his own accord, saying he wants to spend some time away from coaching and is moving to Oklahoma after the school year ends to be with his family.

Mark Heller wrote in an article for the East Valley Tribune that he suspects Busken was getting worn down by the pressures of the job.  The Arizona Republic‘s Richard Obert voiced a similar theory in his sports blog, but made a reference to how coaches are paid so much more to coach in Texas, compensating them more appropriately for the enormous amount of time it takes to build a program at an elite level.  He noted that some Texas coaches are earning six-figure salaries.

He closed by questioning whether it might be time to begin paying Arizona coaches like their counterparts in the Lone Star state.

Hopefully, Arizona schools won’t succumb to that notion.  The way high school sports are being run these days, it’s already becoming increasingly difficult to tell them apart from those controlled by the NCAA.