The prep coaching hire that’s getting all the attention lately is at Mountain View High School in Mesa, where Mike Fell will take over as head coach for the school’s football program.
And rightly so. The Toros football program is a high-profile part of the prep landscape in Arizona and not too long ago was a dominant force among the big schools. Mountain View captured eight state titles and competed in 11 championship games over a span of two decades that began in the late ’70s.
Their last title came in 2002 and the next year their 27-game winning streak was broken. Since then they’ve been in a perpetual annual effort to re-start another string of championships. For the last five years, Chad DeGrenier has been the head coach charged with that task, but his record over that span was 23-30 – and the last two years resulted in just three wins each season.
So now Fell, who moved to Arizona from Ohio where he spent the last 26 years as a high school coach, will get to try his hand at returning the glory.
But another coach has had to give up on trying. And his departure from the game is noteworthy, at the least.
Paul Moro‘s decision to resign his head-coaching position at Poston Butte High School just a couple of days after the final game of the 2015 season brings the curtain down on a career that spanned three decades and brought 13 state championships – more than any other Arizona football coach has accumulated.
All of those state titles came during Moro’s 35 years – 30 of those as head coach – at Blue Ridge High School, a small school of about 800 students located in the high-country community of Lakeside. The Yellow Jackets ruled small-school football during his tenure, making it to 16 championship games and winning 13 of those.
Moro’s record at Blue Ridge, 319 wins against just 52 losses, is the stuff of legend.
But Moro stunned the White Mountains football community when he announced he was leaving to take over at Poston Butte, a struggling Division II program in Florence.
That was two years ago. He posted a 7-4 record his first season in Florence and took that team to the playoffs. But this past season a brutal schedule included a gauntlet of top D-I schools and he was unable to manage a single win.
In addition to the pressures that were coming with the setback in his rebuilding program, the long hours and time away from his family were beginning to take a toll as well. And the suicide death of his son, Alex, over the summer magnified his problems. That created a crisis environment, both at home and at work, for someone putting in 60-plus hours each week on the field and in the classroom.
His departure left the door open again for Cody Collett, who was among the list of candidates who had applied for the job that was given to Moro. Collett spent the last four years as head coach at Prescott High School and was also on staff before that at a couple of other Mesa schools, Red Mountain High and Dobson High. At Prescott he posted a 27-13 record, 7-3 last season, and made it to the playoffs once.
The 2016 schedule isn’t loaded with strong big-school opponents, as it was this past season, so the new head coach should have a good chance of pulling the program out of the ditch.
Meanwhile, there’s always the chance he could find himself running into Moro some day – on the other side of the field. Moro hasn’t ruled out a return to coaching, should he decide he can once again balance family and the demands of work.
He does have some additional incentive for making a return. Moro needs just seven more victories to become the all-time winningest prep coach in the state.
And it shouldn’t be too hard for a coaching legend to find a new school that will be happy to give him that chance.