High school football: Coaches have big shoes to fill

Sonoma Valley's new head football coach,  Bob Midgley,, takes over for Mick O’Meara, who stepped down after 29 years, 174 wins and eight Sonoma County League titles. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Sonoma Valley’s new head football coach, Bob Midgley, takes over for Mick O’Meara, who stepped down after 29 years, 174 wins and eight Sonoma County League titles. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

How do you replace a legendary high school football coach? By hiring someone who used to play for the legend, someone who serves as physical education teacher and athletic director at the school, someone already coaching on campus.

That’s what Montgomery High School did. And Sonoma Valley High, too. Both schools were forced to search for new football coaches this year. At Montgomery, Jason Franci retired after 33 years, 232 victories and nine North Bay League championships. At Sonoma, Mick O’Meara stepped down after 29 years, 174 wins and eight Sonoma County League titles.

Those are heavy clipboards to carry. As Franci’s replacement, Montgomery turned to Dean Haskins. Sonoma Valley looked to Bob Midgley. Their profiles are remarkably similar. Both teach PE. Both are athletic directors. Midgley was coaching Dragons junior varsity football. Haskins coaches Vikings baseball.

And both played football for the men they are succeeding. Midgley (Sonoma Valley High, Class of ’84) played for O’Meara when O’Meara was an assistant coach. Haskins (Montgomery High, Class of ’88) played several sports in high school, including two years of football under Franci.

“Jason was just one of those guys you wanted to put it on the line for,” Haskins said. “He was kind of that character.”

But all characters, even the legendary ones, move on. Neither Midgley nor Haskins is getting a lot of hand-holding. O’Meara is teaching at a different school, meaning Midgley doesn’t have much contact with him. Franci, beset by health problems the past few years, is focusing on family.

Anyway, the new coaches realize they can’t be carbon copies of what came before.

“I’d say I’m a lot more emotional, a little louder,” Midgley noted, comparing himself with the taciturn O’Meara. “It’s not demonstrative loudness, it’s I-need-your-attention loudness. Kids react a lot differently than they used to, so you have to change as a coach.”

Haskins has tremendous respect for Franci, but was dismayed by the direction the Montgomery football program took over the past few years. The Vikings enter 2013 with three consecutive losing seasons.

“I saw a football team the last few years that struggled a bit,” Haskins said. “I’d like to see it turn around to the place it used to be. We had a tremendous amount of tradition in the past. Jason had a lot of successful teams. That tradition of Montgomery football is still there. I’m just trying to bring it to the surface again.”

To strengthen the bonds, Haskins has seeded his coaching staff with former Vikings players, guys like Brian Kilkenny, Andrew Barton and Albert Higgs, who played quarterback under Franci and is in Montgomery’s athletic hall of fame.

Haskins felt Monty wasn’t developing its athletes as well as it used to, and he believes the answer is accountability. He opened the weight room on June 10, and says attendance has been excellent. The Vikings also participated in two passing camps at Santa Rosa JC.

“We want to do a better job of tracking kids’ grades, things like that, trying to support them as best we can so they can be the best student-athletes possible,” Haskins said.

Resuscitating a program can be an involved and complicated process, and the NBL is tougher than ever with last year’s addition of Casa Grande and Windsor. But Haskins isn’t giving himself a lot of rope.

“I expect to see change right away,” he said. “With this group, it won’t take long at all. I feel like we’re 85 percent there.”

Midgley aims to keep more continuity in the Sonoma Valley program.

“It’s pretty much the same style of offense,” he said. “And with the personnel we have, we pretty much run the same type of defense, too. It’s football. You still have to tackle, still have to block, throw, execute. As far as that goes, I thought Mick was pretty good at getting kids to execute.”

One factor in Midgley’s favor is an experienced returning quarterback, the dynamic Dan Deely, who led the Dragons to a 5-1 record in the SCL as a junior last year. Another advantage: Midgley knows just about all his players, via PE classes and JV football.

“Maybe three years ago, the position opened up as head coach of the JV team. I was working as the varsity line coach at the time,” Midgley said. “I said, ‘Sure, that’d be fun.’ Mick hinted at the time he’d been thinking about stepping down. Going down there kind of helped me prepare.”

Now preparation is about to meet expectations. Montgomery opens the season at home against Pinole Valley on Aug. 30. Sonoma Valley opens the next day, at Redwood High in Larkspur. Both teams start practice this Monday.

“I’m fired up. I’m real excited to get started officially on Aug. 12,” Haskins said. “We’ve been working hard all summer. To get to that official day, I can’t wait. A lot of the kids can’t wait.”

No doubt the same is true down in Sonoma, as these two football-crazy schools snap the ball and dive into a new era.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.

 

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