By Ray Hamill — There is no doubt that the Eureka Loggers coaching staff is reaping the rewards this year from having an outstanding senior class at their disposal, but equally there’s no denying that same senior class is outstanding in part because of an exceptional coaching staff.
And the Loggers are not alone.
Numerous of the North Coast squads are benefitting from the presence of quality coaching here, from the young minds setting a new tone in the Little 4 and changing the culture of their programs, to the older, more experienced hands in the Big 4, where the quality, experience and depth of coaching from top to bottom surely rivals that of any league throughout the North Coast Section.
“I’ve said it for a while, the quality of football up here on the North Coast is solid,” Del Norte head coach Lewis Nova said. “And it comes from solid coaching.”
And that includes an assortment of outstanding assistants as well as the four head coaches — Nova, Eureka’s Jason White, St. Bernard’s Matt Tomlin and Fortuna’s Mike Benbow.
Two of them have won state championships, another could win one this year, and all four have a combined 49 years experience as head coaches, and have been roaming the sidelines for even longer than that.
For most of them, it was something they knew they wanted to do at a young age.
“It was very purposeful,” White said. “I knew I was going to be a head coach when I was 16-years-old.”
White, who graduated out of Fort Bragg High School in 1988 was heavily recruited academically as a computer science major, but says he didn’t want to be sitting behind a desk all his life.
And, in his own words, he knew he wasn’t going to be an NFL player, so he decided to join the coaching ranks.
The others also saw it as a calling of sorts.
“I wanted to coach since I was little and drawing up plays in the classroom,” Tomlin said. “My dad was a great Little League coach and it was always something I wanted to do.”
Fortuna’s Benbow is the longest continuous serving head coach of the group, now in his 11th season in charge of his alma mater.
And he has built one of the most respected programs around.
“Mike’s been doing this a long time, and he has a definite philosophy he follows,” White said. “His teams are always prepared.”
And usually successful.
Benbow has an impressive career record of 93-41, including wining the 5-A state championship a year ago.
“Mike Benbow is probably the most well-rounded coach and leader in the conference,” Tomlin said. “He’s just terrific at everything he does. I would describe Mike Benbow as a professional.”
Nova, too, has earned the respect of his peers.
“He’s the toughness of the Big 4 coaches in my mind,” Tomlin said.
Nova is in the fourth year of his third stint as head coach of the Warriors, having previously coached his alma mater from 1990-99 and from 2004-08.
And the one thing you can always expect from a Nova coached team is physicality at the point of attack.
Tomlin, meanwhile, is in his sixth year in charge of St. Bernard’s, which is also his alma mater. (Three of the Big 4 coaches are coaching their alma maters.)
“I think he’s just great at motivating his players,” McKinleyville head coach Keoki Burbank said of Tomlin, whom he coached alongside at College of the Redwoods and St. Bernard’s.
He was able to motivate them enough to win a 5-A state title in 2015, with Burbank as his offensive coordinator, and he now has a career record of 65-29, winning league titles in each of the past five seasons.
Tomlin, who coached at Piner for two years before St. Bernard’s, is arguably the best all-around coach of all four, also excelling on the sidelines in both baseball and basketball.
“In the Big 4, you have to bring your A game every week,” White said. “It just forces you to step up your game because you don’t want to get out-coached.”
White is the most experienced of them all.
In addition to his time at Eureka, he spent 15 years combined as an assistant at both CR and Humboldt State, as well as five years with the Crusaders, two of them as head coach.
“Coach White has more experience coaching the offensive line than all of us combined,” Tomlin said. “His teams block so well every time. They make zero mistakes on the offensive line.”
In addition to their coaching prowess, all of the Big 4 head coaches have two other things in common.
They all love what they do, and they all have exceptional supporting casts.
White and Benbow, in particular, have an experienced group of assistants.
And that’s particularly important in football, a sport where the coaching team is every bit as important as the team of players.
Benbow relies on long-time assistants Clint Duey, Dan Milich, Kelly Patrick, Steve Ross, Dennis Rosser, Mark Thorn, Gary Klinetobe and Joe Claus, as well as experienced former South Fork head coach Andy Olsen, and preaches the team-first philosophy among his coaches every bit as much as among his players.
White has the most experienced staff of all the Big 4 teams, including former head coaches Garett Montana and Ray Watson.
Wide receivers/DBs coach Junior Bean also brings a wealth of experience to the staff, and that overall experience on the sideline has shown with the maturation and growth of the current group of players.
Talented and all as they might be, the Loggers would not be enjoying the success they are this year without a top-notch coaching staff, which also includes former NFL receiver Mo Purify, as well as Jeff Faulk, Andrew Haroldson and Leon Chalmers.
Tomlin also relies on his team of assistants — Richard Stevenson, Jason Morrow, Kevin Law, James Chase, Kyle Saunderson, Joe Cornely, Greg Allen, Dan Joyner and Steve Dunn — while defensive coordinator Daren LaFazio and the rest of the Del Norte assistants play a big role in Lewis’ success.
For the love of the game
For all of them, the job is one they relish for many reasons.
“There are a lot of things I like about it,” White said. “Seeing a team reach its potential, or an individual player reach their potential, is great. Seeing kids with no direction and how football gives them that, and how it enables them to be successful.
“And obviously, you love the game.”
Tomlin, who is described by Burbank as one of the hardest working people he knows, loves other aspects of the job.
“I love the preparation, Monday through Friday,” the St. Bernard’s head coach said. “A lot of coaches look forward to game day, but I look forward to Sunday and Monday and beginning to prepare.
“And the interaction with the kids. There’s nothing greater than teaching and getting players to reach their potential as people.”
Nova echoed the sentiment.
“Coaches do it for the love of the game, and for the love of the kids,” he said. “And just having the opportunity to have a positive influence on these young men, and sometimes women, is great.
“I think in all the schools in our area, the coaches have done a great job.”
And they continue to do so.
Particularly in the Big 4.