Angelo Paffumi is fired up.
He’s hot-under-the-collar about a perception that he’s a one-trick, fire-you-up guy, as if he has no coaching chops.
He’s annoyed by those who say Skyline can’t be a good football program anymore, that the east side of Mesa belongs to Desert Ridge and Red Mountain. After all, four years ago (2008) Skyline was a 5A Division II playoff team just like Red Mountain and Desert Ridge.
These perceived “slights” fuel Paffumi. It’s why he never swallowed very hard about moving 1 1/2 miles north from Desert Ridge assistant to take over Skyline.
Since he has to teach at Desert Ridge (where his daughter is a freshman at the school) for the rest of the school year, he’s currently relegated to spending an hour or two during and after school hours walking around Skyline before going back to teaching at Desert Ridge.
“It’s a different mentality because they’re not winning and you see it in their faces and attitudes,” he said. “I’ll walk the campus during lunch and prep hour, talk to people on campus and then go back, but it won’t be the same until I can be there full-time.”
He’s behind the curve these days, the product of Skyline’s coaching change and hiring process that was later than usual. He’s trying to set up camps, get weight room activities rolling, junior high and feeder-school programs moving, not to mention a summer camp up north when nearly every spot in the mountains was booked months ago for July and August.
Meanwhile, his staff won’t shake itself out for a couple weeks. Former Mesa defensive coordinator John Shea was another finalist for this job, and will be Paffumi’s defensive coordinator. That’s all Paffumi knows at this point, with available teaching positions and his desire to have as many staff on campus as possible still being ironed out in the coming weeks.
And, oh yeah, he has to keep the kids he has in the program from wandering eyes to those neighboring schools (some already transferred to neighboring schools before Skyline hired Paffumi) and get the next wave of kids to stay.
Paffumi wants to tap into other programs at the school. To do that, he’s seeking input from the school’s wrestling program, which, during a period where Skyline athletics hasn’t exactly been on top in recent years, the wrestling program continues to be a strength competitively.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” he said. “We need to hook them when they’re young, but if we don’t have some kind of early success and buy-in with the current kids we’re going to have a long couple of years. Once you win you get more kids. It’s a spiral. That’s why I’m trying to tie things with wrestling program. They’re doing something right in there. Let’s find and explore the toughness the wrestlers have and the chip on their shoulder.”
He feels ready for what’s ahead. He knows the area having played (and started his coaching career) at Apache Junction. He left for school, then came back. His three years under Hathcock at Desert Ridge and a decade prior with Jesse Parker at Gilbert honed his coaching acumen, and he’s acutely aware of Desert Ridge’s rise from irrelevancy to prominence a few years ago.
Similarly, his days going forward will be about everything beyond X’s and O’s and what type of offense and defense he’ll employ (he has his preferences but won’t decide anything for this season until he has a better idea of his kids’ abilities). It’s what happens when you move up a spot in the pecking order.
It’s what he’s wanted, and, now that he’s gotten it, it’s time to dive into a deep unknown.
“I don’t have all the answers,” he said. “You have to somehow reach the kids and make them want to be at Skyline, to say it and not have people make a face at you. I wouldn’t have taken the job if I didn’t think it could be done. I get a little angry when they tell me you can’t. Maybe the first, second year will be hard, but absolutely you can do it.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.