Clovis News: Sports

Hard to keep TRAC of league's coaching carousel

The coaching carousel in Tri-River Athletic Conference football, spinning as if plugged into a county fair, has left half the league with new leadership and no common explanation to it all.

But this is consistent: "It's a great league and everybody feels some pressure to rise to the level of competition," Buchanan coach Mike Vogt says.

The TRAC has won 17 of the Central Section's past 30 large-school football titles, should press again this season behind Buchanan and defending champion Clovis West, and has earned a statewide reputation for excellence that compares with the Southern Section's Trinity League (Orange Lutheran, Mater Dei, Servite, etc.).

But stability at the top has become an issue.

Consider:

Clovis West, with interim coach Coby Lindsey, has its fourth coach in four years.

Clovis, with Rich Hammond, has its third coach in four years.

Clovis East has inserted interim coach Ryan Reynolds for Tim Murphy, who, after eight seasons, is stepping down for a year to catch his breath and be with family.

Central's Casey Quinn replaced Wayne Koligian a year ago.

Madera's Randy Blankenship, once a rock at Clovis West, is entering his sixth season with the Coyotes and is encouraged with their younger classes. But even his eyes were wandering a year ago.

So what gives?

Perhaps Lindsey says it best: "If you look overall, it might seem like there's some kind of bigger picture here. But if you look at each case individually, they're all very explainable."

Clovis West, especially given its success -- eight section titles since 1985, begs for the most explanation.

Lindsey replaces Gary Kinne, who returned to Texas after winning the section's D-I title in his only season with the Golden Eagles.

Kinne replaced Marty Martin, who was fired after guiding Clovis West to a TRAC co-championship and a runner-up finish in the section.

And Martin replaced Jim Hartigan, who made an expected return to Southern California after delivering a 42-9-1 record with one section title and two runner-up finishes in four seasons.

As Lindsey says, each had an explanation.

But, bottom line, Vogt says: "Common sense tells you that four head coaches in four years is not best for the kids in that program."

Regarding his own program, he says: "We once had two losing seasons in a row, at 5-6, and I could have been shown the door but wasn't. I do appreciate the administration standing behind me. But whoever the decision-makers are [elsewhere] in the TRAC, they are a little quicker to pull the plug than regular high school leagues -- it's obvious."

Vogt is 112-55-3 with six league championships and one section title at Buchanan. And he says he hasn't felt the heat to do even better, particularly in the postseason: "I don't think I'm put on a pedestal because I'm a football coach. But things are done differently at [different] Clovis schools."

Meaning, Clovis West?

Eagles principal Ben Drati says: "We hire coaches who are hungry and, as a result, the pressure is what they put on themselves. There's no pressure from anybody, saying, 'You better win.' "

Of the past three coaches, Drati says Hartigan and Kinne decided to leave, and that Martin was the only one fired: "We said, 'This is not going to work out.' "

Martin, entering his second year at Kerman, was asked whether he now feels less pressure: "Nobody puts more pressure on me than I do myself to be successful. So, pressure's probably not the right word. I would say there's a lot less interference."

He didn't let the subject go at that. Regarding Clovis Unified football programs, he added: "There are some unrealistic expectations based on past performance. You have more schools, and there's only so many athletes to go around. Vince Lombardi could come into some of those places and he's not going to win just because of his name. At some point, you have to have a reality check."

Lindsey, son of recently retired Clovis Unified athletic director Dennis Lindsey, allows that extraordinary expectations are inherent with the Clovis West football job: "I'm not worried about it; I know what I'm getting into. If you're a true competitor, you want to be in the toughest position you can. And as big as the possibilities of things not working out is the flipside of the rewards being tremendous."

They have been for Murphy, who won two section titles and never lost consecutive games in any of his eight seasons at Clovis East.

"Our league's really competitive," he says. "And you've gotta be darn good to compete in it every year. It's a grind being a Clovis coach and in this league -- for sure."

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