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Fryer: John Barnes retiring with most wins, lots of wonderful memories
John Barnes had modest expectations.
“When I got hired here my only goal was to not get fired,” he said. “Today, I reached my goal.”
And then some.
On Thursday, Barnes announced his retirement as football coach at Los Alamitos. He coached the Griffins for 37 seasons.
He leaves as Orange County football’s career wins leader, with 321. His teams won four CIF-Southern Section championships. Barnes’ 20 league championships also is a county record.
Barnes’ teams played in, and won, some of the bigger games in Orange County high school sports history. There was an 8-0 win over archrival Esperanza in a 1991 CIF-SS final and a 41-14 shellacking of Mater Dei in a 2002 section championship game.
His teams could be as entertaining as they were successful.
Barnes, a quarterback as a player at St. Anthony in Long Beach and at Nevada, coached some of the finer quarterbacks in county history. Tim Carey, Mike Good and Jeff Kline were CIF player-of-the-year quarterbacks at Los Alamitos. So was Barnes’ son Jimmy.
Another son, Brian, was an All-County lineman at Los Alamitos and became head coach at Estancia and Tesoro.
Many great receivers were able to shine in Barnes’ offense, players like Jeremy Childs and Tony Hartley, whose names appear in the CIF-SS record book for career receptions and yardage.
Taking stock of his career Thursday, Barnes talked about the many Griffins players who went on to play in college, including some who had NFL careers.
With equal pleasure he talked about Amit Weinberg, who was never All-CIF, all-league or all-anything years ago at Los Alamitos.
“He recovered an onside kick to help us beat Edison in a huge game,” Barnes said. “That was his one big play all year. He was one of the thousands of kids who came in every day and worked his tail off, knowing he was not going to be a star but he loved it so much. That’s one of the great parts of coaching that most people never see.”
Most of the Griffins’ assistant coaches staff were with Barnes for 15 or more years, some for more than 25 years - Art Armijo, Jerry Rodriguez, Barry Sher and Nello Tomarelli. Frank Doretti, Mark Rehling, Steve Scully and Jim Van Gorder were on staff for nearly as long.
After a long talk with Anita Barnes, his wife of 43 years, Barnes surprised Los Alamitos athletic director Richard Smith on Thursday by announcing his retirement.
A couple of Barnes’ longtime coaching competitors figured the announcement was coming.
Gary Meek coached Esperanza against Barnes and Los Alamitos in the Empire and Sunset leagues. They coached against each other in playoff games, including two CIF-SS finals.
“It’s harder and harder to stay competitive and win league championships and CIF championships,” said Meek, Esperanza’s head coach from 1986 to 2002 and now the school’s running backs coach.
Los Alamitos has continued to regularly qualify for the playoffs, but winning in the playoffs has been challenging. Since playing for a CIF-SS championship in ’04, the Griffins went 1-9 in playoff games.
This season was a challenging one for Barnes. An extraordinary number of injuries hit the team. The Griffins lost five in a row before they rallied to win their final three regular-season games and qualified for the playoffs. They almost upset Chino Hills in the first round, but lost 38-30.
“There are so many more elements involved in coaching now,” Meek said. “I think that was wearing on John a little bit.”
Dave White, who announced this week that the 2016 season - his 30th coaching Edison - will be his final season coaching the Chargers, long has admired Barnes’ ability to get the most out of his teams.
“He was just so good with the personnel he had,” White said. “If he had great passers and receivers, they’d throw the ball, or if they had great running backs, then they’d run the ball, and then there were some years when they won it on great defense and special teams. John did a great job playing to his strengths.”
Like White, Meek said there always was mutual respect between the teams and coaches.
“We really went after each other to get the win,” Meek said. “But through it all, John was always a gentleman. He loved coaching, so it’s got to be hard for him to give it up.”
On Thursday, the day he finally said he is giving it up, Barnes reflected with some melancholy but mostly with joy.
“I've truly been blessed,” Barnes said. “I have an unbelievably supportive wife and family. I got to coach my sons. How wonderful is that?”
Probably more wonderful than getting fired.
Taking a look around Orange County high school sports:
• As for White, he is retiring from teaching and coaching after the 2016-17 school year. He wants to have the time to see son Garrett play football at Yale and to do the sort of travelling a coach’s schedule does not allow. “Depending on who gets the job after me,” White said, “I might stay on part time and keep my nose in it (coaching) a little bit.”
• When Edison lost to Rancho Cucamonga last week in a West Valley Division playoffs first-round game, it marked the end of Harry Schmidt’s 32 years as an Edison assistant coach. Schmidt, who coached the offensive linemen, always was one of the more relaxed coaches one could speak with before a game.
• Yours truly was 34-6 in his predictions for the first round of the playoffs for divisions that have county teams in them. Yes, if the record was 6-34 it would not be publicized here.
• Villa Park’s football team over the past six seasons is 61-13, with a 34-2 record at its home field, Fred Kelly Stadium on the El Modena campus. The Spartans’ most-recent home loss was to Edison in the Southwest Division playoffs in 2013.
• CASportsZone.com on Friday will provide live audio coverage of La Habra-Laguna Hills and Corona del Mar-Buena Park football playoff games. NFHSnetwork.com carries live audio coverage of Tesoro-Rancho Cucamonga and Centennial of Corona-Orange Lutheran on Friday.
• Admission to CIF-SS boys water polo finals Saturday at the Woollett Aquatics Center in Irvine is $10 for adults and $5 for students (with valid student identification) and for children 13 and younger. All seating is general admission.
• Segerstrom is one of five county teams in the water polo finals. Success in water polo is not strange at Segerstrom. The Jaguars won their first boys water polo championship in 2013 and were runners up last year, and the girls won a CIF-SS title in 2014.
• Admission to CIF-SS girls volleyball finals Saturday is $12 for adults and $5 for students (with valid student ID) and for children 13 and younger.
• Foxsportswest.com’s Prep Zone will carry live streaming of the girls volleyball finals Saturday.
• Now that team championships are finished in CIF-SS girls tennis (Valencia was Division 3 champion), the individual tournament begins Monday with prelims spread over five sites. The round of 32 matches are Dec. 1 at Whittier Narrows Tennis Center in El Monte followed by round of 16 and quarterfinals Dec. 2 at Seal Beach Tennis Center. The semifinals and finals are Dec. 3 at Seal Beach Tennis Center.
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