Curtis chosen to lead Santa Margarita

2013-12-20 10:27:22
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Santa Margarita announced Friday that its football coach is Rick Curtis, who coached Northwood to a .500 record in his 13 seasons as the Irvine public school’s football coach.

He is the not the same type of big-name hire Santa Margarita made four years ago when it brought in Harry Welch.

When Welch was hired in 2010, his resume included nine CIF-Southern Section championships and two state titles, at St. Margaret’s and at Canyon of Country. Welch would coach Santa Margarita to section and state championships before retiring after the 2013 season.

Santa Margarita principal Ray Dunne said the school’s emphasis when searching for Welch’s replacement was not on the addition of championship trophies.

“We were looking for a very decent and honorable man who had the best interests of the kids at heart,” Dunne said. “Our hiring panel felt Rick is a man of high integrity. We were very taken by his concern for the welfare of the kids and his leadership.”

Curtis, 57, coached Northwood to a 75-75-3 record. Northwood finished this season 3-7 overall and 2-3 in the Pacific Coast League. The Timberwolves did not qualify for the playoffs.

The Pacific Coast League plays in the Southern Division for the football playoffs. Before the CIF-Southern Section went with quasi-geographical names for its 13 football playoff divisions, the Southern Division was called Division 9. Santa Margarita plays in the ultra-competitive Trinity League, a league that is in the Pac-5 Division that used to be called Division 1.

For Curtis, pursuing the job at Santa Margarita, a coed Catholic school in Rancho Santa Margarita, was about pursuing a challenge.

“It’s a different level of coaching,” Curtis said. “But coaching is coaching, and having strong relationships with the kids is the key. I’m excited because this is more of a college situation.”

Northwood won Pacific Coast League championships in its first three seasons of varsity football, 2001-03. Northwood was a CIF-SS Division 9 finalist in 2005 when the Timberwolves lost to league rival Tesoro in the division championship game. Northwood was in the Sea View League for four seasons (2006-09) before returning to the PCL for the 2010 season.

The Timberwolves advanced to the Southern Division semifinals in 2010, missed the playoffs in 2011 and were eliminated by Laguna Beach in the second round in 2012.

Curtis was Northwood’s first athletic director, a position he previously occupied for 10 years at Irvine High. He was defensive coordinator on Irvine’s CIF championship teams in 1991, ’92 and ’93. Curtis was Irvine’s co-head coach with Terry Henigan for the 1988 and ’89 seasons.

He also has been an assistant coach at Laguna Hills, Servite and University.

Curtis begins his Santa Margarita coaching assignment on Jan. 6. He said he might remain at Northwood as a business and physical education instructor for the spring semester, depending upon the needs of Northwood, and he would teach as many as two classes at Santa Margarita in the fall of 2014.

Next for Curtis is assembling a coaching staff. He will bring with him his son Sean Curtis who has been offensive coordinator at Northwood the past two seasons.

Curtis was among 30 candidates for the position. Dunne said three finalists were interviewed. Among the three finalists was former Orange Lutheran and Canyon coach Jim Kunau.

Dunne said it would be wrong to suggest that Curtis will not have the impact that the hiring of Kunau, who won three Trinity League championships and one Pac-5 and one state championship at Orange Lutheran, or another similar coach would have had.

“I think that shortchanges Rick,” Dunne said. “If you look at Rick’s accomplishments you’ll see he was won during his time as defensive coordinator and co-coach at Irvine and during his time at Northwood.”

Welch could be a hard-driving coach. Curtis does not have a reputation for that sort of tenacity.

“Rick is different from Harry,” Dunne said, “just as Harry was different from Mike Jacot (Welch’s predecessor at Santa Margarita). Harry was right for the moment at the time. He was needed and moved things forward. This is the right moment for Rick Curtis.”

Curtis compared his hiring at Santa Margarita to that of Jason Negro at St. John Bosco. Negro was the coach at Trabuco Hills before getting the job at St. John Bosco in 2010. Bosco won the Pac-5 championship this season and plays De La Salle of Concord in the Open Division state championship game today.

“Jason didn’t win a CIF championship before this year,” Curtis said. “People might have been saying, ‘Jason who?’ Today, Jason was one of the first guys who texted me and said ‘It’s a great job, a beast of a job, but you’re going to love it.’”

Contact the writer: sfryer@ocregister.com

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