Tommy Brittain is in the news again. But this time, the story likely won’t be picked up by the national media.
Brittain, who was on the original teaching staff when Tempe Preparatory Academy opened 17 years ago, started the school’s football program in 1998 and, except for a three-year leave he took from 2000-2003, has been on the sidelines ever since.
That changed last week when he was announced as the new head coach at St. Mary’s High School in downtown Phoenix, taking over a program in disarray after the school fired Todd Williamson in August. Marcel Lopez stepped in as interim head coach, but the Knights finished out the season with just three wins after compiling a 7-4 record the year before under Williamson.
Tempe Prep, which also uses the nickname Knights, has been a power in the small-school divisions in recent years. The 2014 team became the first from a charter school to play in a state championship game. It fell short of the Division V title in a 38-27 loss to Yuma Catholic.
Brittain’s move to St. Mary’s certainly warrants some mention in the local media since Brittain, and his family, have been intertwined with the charter school for all these years. His brother coaches there and his five sons have all gone through the Tempe Prep football program.
But little more than a year ago, Brittain found himself the subject of an avalanche of articles that were published in newspapers that extended from USA Today to The Daily Mail in the United Kingdom, not to mention web site posts too numerous to count.
The attention stemmed from a Sept. 5 game against Show Low High School. Tempe Prep won the game and afterward Brittain asked his son, Isaiah, to lead the team in a prayer of thanks.
That cost the veteran head coach a two-game suspension because the prayer was in violation of school policy.
The media coverage soon died down and Brittain returned to the sideline for the remainder of the season. In his absence, the team squeaked out a one-point win over Northwest Christian and then romped over Paradise Honors. When Brittain returned for the Valley Christian game, the Knights kept right on winning and strung together 12 straight victories after a season-opening loss to Yuma Catholic.
And it was Yuma Catholic that kept them from the state title, winning the second meeting of the season as well.
After the season wrapped, Brittain began entertaining the idea of coaching at a school where he could openly express his faith, so he reportedly looked into head-coach openings at Notre Dame Prep and Seton Catholic. Now that Isaiah, his youngest, is getting ready to graduate, the idea of moving on became easier to consider.
So, after posting an 8-4 record this season and advancing to the playoffs each of the last five years, Brittain made the jump to a private Catholic school that also offers a jump in the level of competition. St. Mary’s is a Division II program.
St. Mary’s is getting a coach who knows how to win. And that’s just what the school, once a power house in the sport, needs right now. Williamson spent five seasons trying to pull the program out of mediocrity. After four- and five-win seasons, he finally posted a winning record in 2014 – before being dismissed for reasons the school chose not to make public.
The drop to 3-8 this season is a set-back, but Brittain has made the move early enough that he will have time to begin his off-season preparations, assemble a coaching staff, and settle in to his new job before getting a look in the spring at what talent is left in cupboard.
His first job will be to find a new quarterback to replace Jeremiah Sullivan, the team’s Offensive Player of the Year. Sullivan graduates this spring.
Yes, a few prayers might be in order about now. But Brittain knows he won’t get in trouble for it this time.