Though far from the only necessary criteria being sought by Corona del Sol in hiring its next football coach, it was clear being "one of us" in having ties to the school and program was beneficial.
Doing so led to the Aztecs hiring Cory Nenaber late this week as its new football leader (pending Tempe Union High School District board approval in January), the third coach sought since 2010 to resurrect the program.
Zane Zamenski and Tom Joseph ultimately failed to do so for a variety (and sometimes embarrassing) reasons. Even before the Aztecs won their final two games of the 2013 season to salvage a 3-7 record - now 13-28 since longtime coach Gary Venturo retired after the 2009 season - there was a ground swell for interim coach, longtime assistant and Corona alumnus Tim Kelly to finally have his chance. He did nothing but strengthen that cause in the season's final month.
Again, the school went in a slightly different direction, but not by much. In welcoming Nenaber back to where he went to school and played in the mid-1990s, and later was an assistant under Venturo, Corona brought in a young coach with recent success of resurrecting programs: Nenaber was 19-22 in four seasons at Maricopa, including a playoff berth in 2012 and consecutive .500-or-better seasons for the first time in 20 years.
The Aztecs also brought back one of their homemade guys, and whether that ultimately matters or not will play out in the next couple years.
The good news for Corona is Nenaber created a pedigree in a short period of time elsewhere, at Maricopa, where the dynamics were different than the bigger-sized Corona, but where relevance and respect around the school, program, coaches and peers was lacking at times.
"I think it’s about getting the best kids and athletes on the football field again, and I don’t know if they are," Nenaber said. "The best kids should be playing multiple sports and be understanding of multi-sport athletes, and we want our best kids to represent us in as many ways as we can. Participation numbers have struggled mightily (at Corona) and been way down and that needs to come back up.
"There needs to be demonstrating of being willing to work with other sports (on campus), and not having all kids playing one sport. We need to have a united front to share our best athletes and be multiple-faceted kids with everyone sharing. If we do that I think kids will start to come back out."
Similar sentiments for Kelly also swirled around Nenaber the first time around when the school ultimately hired Zamenski, but the opportunity Maricopa provided proved invaluable in terms of learning what's required as a head coach in a struggling program, the Rams being a smaller, less pressure-cooker of a situation than Division I competition has become even since 2010.
Those dynamics are now changing year-to-year in many cases among big-school high school programs (for better or worse), and Nenaber knows both the Arizona football landscape and burndt orange-and-yellow life on Knox Road in Tempe is different.
Look at what's transpired since he left four years ago.
This isn't the same job, program, school or sport, and because he learned while doing, struggling and succeeding somewhere else, he has a fighting chance, regardless that he grew up, earned a diploma or played there.
"I do think the culture of Div. I has changed but if you treat kids the right way and build a program that cares about kids and community, I think they’ll come, or come back," he said. "It’s so much more of a battle for good athletes and good kids than before, but if you put a good product on the field and treat kids the right way, they’ll go to Corona because it’s a top-notch school.
"Football has had its great days, we’re trying to get this to go there again."