The recent announcement that Brophy Prep has hired a former NFL quarterback to take over its football program seems to be following a new trend in high school sports.
Brophy, a small Catholic school in central Phoenix, has a tradition-rich program that attracted a lot of interest from very qualified coaching candidates following the resignation of Scooter Molander, who had led the program for the last 13 years.
But Jon Kitna wasn’t on most lists of likely candidates. His hire was somewhat of a surprise.
Kitna is certainly qualified for the job. After 14 years in the NFL, he began coaching high school programs in Washington, where he won a couple of district titles, and Texas, where he spent the last three years rebuilding a program at Waxahachie High School. (Brophy will be much easier to pronounce – and to spell.)
He takes over a program that went 1-9 last season.
But Kitna is just one of the latest former professional athletes to take the reins of an Arizona high school program.
Shortly after Kitna signed on last month at Brophy, Arcadia High School announced the hire of Kerry Taylor, a wide receiver who played for the Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars following a college career at Arizona State University.
While this is his first job as a head coach in the Arizona Interscholastic Association, he did run the football program at Salt River High in the Canyon Athletic Association two years ago, and was an assistant at Chandler High three years ago.
Taylor, too, has a rebuilding job ahead of him at Arcadia. The Titans went winless last season and are on a 13-game losing streak that dates back to the previous season.
And over at Valley Christian in Chandler, Jeff Rutledge had been directing that program for the past five years before deciding to step down after the 2017 season. Rutledge was a quarterback at Alabama and then served as the quarterbacks coach for the Arizona Cardinals when that team made its run to the 2008 Super Bowl.
He left after back-to-back seasons that finished 3-7.
Chaparral High School also just lost a former NFLer. Thomas Lewis was the head football coach for the Scottsdale school the last two years, compiling a 13-12 record over that time, but also earning the distinction of being in charge of the first team to post a losing record (6-7 in 2015) in the last 20 years.
Lewis was a wide receiver who played four years for the New York Giants.
This “trend” isn’t limited to the game of football. A couple of basketball programs have high-profile coaches from the pro ranks.
Mike Bibby has been directing the boys’ basketball program at Shadow Mountain High School in northeast Phoenix for the past four years, and has won three state titles during that time. His teams have won 71 consecutive games against in-state opponents.
Bibby was a household name while starring for the University of Arizona Wildcats and then went on to play 14 years in the NBA.
The girls’ basketball program at Xavier College Prep in central Phoenix has also been enjoying the benefits that come from learning from someone who has been at the top of the game. Jennifer Gillom is actually on her second tour with the school following a professional career playing and coaching in the WNBA. She spent five years playing for the Phoenix Mercury and was one of the team’s most popular players.
Gillom coached at Xavier from 2004-09, finishing with a 130-25 record, and then left to become coach of the Minnesota Lynx. She returned to the high school in 2015 to take a job as assistant coach, and then took over the program again last April.
The Gators won 27 games this season and made it to the 6A state championship game, where they lost to Valley Vista High.
There’s one other benefit that may come with the hire of a former professional athlete. They generally aren’t taking the job for the money.
Bibby reportedly takes no salary for his work at Shadow Mountain, his high school alma mater and the school his son has been attending.
But, considering what he has accomplished, Bibby would have been a bargain at any price.