For 20 years, Tim Kelly has coached football at Corona del Sol, and this was after he played football and graduated from the school.
He’s thrown his hat in the ring a couple times after longtime coach Gary Venturo left, but wasn’t chosen. Those who were (Zane Zamenski, and, most recently, Tom Joseph) didn’t last long.
Last week, Kelly got his chance. Of course, one day before facing Mesquite, he was pulled from his classroom and made the long walk down to the administration’s side of the school, told Joseph was fired and was asked if he’d be the “acting” coach for the next day’s game.
“I was just nauseous,” he said.
But he agreed, Corona lost to Mesquite the next day, and Kelly was asked about being the interim coach the rest of the season.
Again, he agreed. So what’s been a mostly-lost season in the standings (an 0-6 record heading into this week’s matchup against Dobson) and nearly every other facet, is Kelly’s chance to be in charge, though no extra compensation was offered (nor did he ask about it).
“I didn’t know what to say to the kids,” he said of the first full gathering later that day. “You’d never been a part of this and not something you ever think about it. I think more kids did not want (Joseph) to be gone than wanted him gone. Kids wanted to do the best they can and not jeopardize the season. I told them it wasn’t decided by you or me and I don’t have a lot of answers. We’re either all in or not to being together and commit to finish this thing right. Give them the best experience possible and get football and the experience accomplished.”
Could one program’s misery be one man’s opportunity after two decades?
“I literally can’t even begin to think about something like that at this point,” he said of throwing his hat into the ring again to be Corona’s next coach.
Fair enough. In the meantime, the goal is to earn a win, and try to put a brave face on what’s been another miserable season at the corner of Rural and Knox roads in Tempe. He noted a roster beset by injuries — compounded moreso by a lack of depth — features several kids who volunteered to go through a steep learning curve on the fly by playing different positions out of necessity: tight end Thomas Turley moved to offensive tackle; Jordan Somerville on the defensive line and George Wright moving from cornerback to safety.
“We’re trying to give these kids the best we can the rest of the year,” he said. “It’s going to be tough until first win, it’s always going to linger until then. When they put it together and win we’ll get a little more confidence.”
What does Corona need moving forward to help re-gain its hold as a perennial playoff participant? That’s for the school and district to decide after the season. First thing’s first: get kids back into the program at the lower levels, and keep them.
Until then, he’s relying on people like Tim Kish, who was the interim coach at the University of Arizona between Mike Stoops and Rich Rodriguez. Now an assistant at Oklahoma, he and Kelly have talked to each other a lot in the past 10 days.
“‘Adversity introduces us to ourselves,’ and we tell the kids that a lot,” he said. “We’re going to find out a lot about ourselves about football and ourselves as people.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.