Normally, coaching changes at small high schools in Arizona, especially those far removed from the bigger Phoenix and Tucson markets, don’t get much attention.
But this one is different.
This coaching change marks the end of an era in the White Mountains of Arizona, and the beginning of a new chapter in the storied history of the Blue Ridge High School football program.
Bob London, who resigned as head coach earlier this month, was the school’s link to a bygone dynasty, when the Yellow Jackets ruled high school football in the 3A conference. Under the direction of legendary head coach Paul Moro, Blue Ridge played in 16 championship games and won 13 of those. Moro spent 30 years guiding the program and built an aura of invincibility over those three decades.
London was part of Moro’s staff during those golden years, serving as an assistant coach on almost all of the championship teams. Moro, who amassed a 319-52 record at Blue Ridge, passed away in January of 2019 and the program was turned over to Jake Belshe, who posted a 5-6 record in the one season he spent as head coach.
The Yellow Jackets won 12 games in Moro’s last season in 2013, but suffered an uncharacteristic losing season the next year. So London was coaxed back onto the sidelines, with the hope that he could return the program to the glory years under his hall-of-fame mentor, who finished his career at Tempe’s Marcos de Niza High School and was the winningest high school football coach in the state at the time, with 336 wins.
London ran the Blue Ridge program for the next six years, but has decided it’s time now to turn the reins over to some new blood. He devoted 30 years to the football program and now will focus entirely on his role as athletic director.
The school was quick to find a replacement, hiring Jeremy Hathcock within 10 days of announcing London’s departure. Hathcock, who will also be the new athletic director, inherits a program that has been steadily on the rise. After 6-5 seasons in 2017 and 2018, the Yellow Jackets finished the 2019 season 9-3. This year’s COVID-shortened season ended with a 5-2 record.
Hathcock resigned his head-coaching position at Desert Ridge High School two weeks ago after 15 years running that program and leading the team to a couple of state championship games. He took the Jaguars to 14 consecutive playoff appearances.
Ironically, Hathcock won a 3A state championship as head coach at Show Low High School prior to his tenure at Desert Ridge. The Blue Ridge vs. Show Low rivalry was one of the biggest in the state. Blue Ridge is located in Lakeside, a short 15-minute drive from Show Low.
More than once, the annual meeting between the two teams, generally the last game on the schedule, would be between teams with undefeated records and a state title on the line. As a teenager, Hathcock played on three of those state championship Blue Ridge teams.
This time, the school has hired someone with roots in the community and an understanding of the small-school culture. Belshe came in from Texas to take over the program and had no head-coaching experience.
No doubt, Hathcock is already thinking about a return to those days when Blue Ridge ruled.
“It’s a return to the glory days,” he told the media upon accepting the coaching job. “I’m excited…there’s a little bit of magic when you walk on that field.”
Now it’s up to the former high school running back/linebacker to bring back the magic.