Today, Jimmy and I team up to take on a topic from last year.
Which first-year coach is in the best spot to have instant success this year?
Alright, I want to toot my own horn for a second. Last year, I answered this question by saying Fremont’s Isamu Falevai was in the best position to succeed, based on the fact that he had Sione Tupouata and the OAL was a little bit up for grabs. Well, let me thank Fremont for winning the Silver Bowl and making me sound smart.
OK, that’s enough tooting. We’re not here to talk about the past. This time around, I’m staying on that side of the Caldecott Tunnel but I’m moving to the ACCAL.
I’m going with Berkeley’s Fred Sims (although I also considered BOD’s Hardy Nickerson), and I’m doing it for a couple reasons. For a few years now, I’ve heard about the good things Sims did at St. Elizabeth with relatively few bodies. Now, he gets a school with what must seem like a million kids.
And, it’s not just the numbers. He’s got bona fide talent coming back. Who wouldn’t want a team built around Isaiah Henderson up front? Or with Michael Ned and Keir Abrams in the backfield? He’s getting a good deal here.
I also like the Jackets because the ACCAL is still up for grabs. You can always expect Alameda, El Cerrito and Pinole Valley to be competitive, but you have to think Berkeley is in that mix again this season. That puts Sims in a great position to have some success.
I’m going a little off the beaten path here to pick a guy that I don’t necessarily think will lead his team to a league title, but someone I think can help bring about a quick turnaround to his program. That’s James Barnes at Arroyo.
The former Castlemont coach heads to a program that can be happy its school enrollment took a dip as the Dons are back competing in Division II this year after a one-year stint in Division I. East Bay teams haven’t fared all that well in the NCS playoffs recently and I’m not predicting Arroyo to win the title, but I’d expect them to be a part of the up to 16-team field. Arroyo hasn’t won an NCS playoff game since 2002 and that drought includes the 2004 season when the Dons won the HAAL title with an 8-0 league record and won their first nine games before falling in the regular season finale to nonleague foe San Ramon Valley and then losing the NCS 3A playoff opener to Las Lomas. I will go ahead and predict that drought will end.
Barnes is a very good coach who had a great three-year run as the head coach at Castlemont. He took the Knights to their first ever Silver Bowl in 2007 and then helped them win their first Silver Bowl crown in 2008. His specialty is defense and Castlemont sported one of the top defenses in the East Bay throughout his tenure. I’d expect him to take that philosophy to Arroyo, where he inherits defending HAAL Defensive Player of the Year in linebacker Micah McMurray. The nonleague schedule opens with an interesting home game against James Logan on Sept. 4 at 1:30 and then a tour of the MVAL continues with a home game against Irvington and a road game at Newark Memorial. That’s three Division I opponents (I’m guessing they were scheduled before Arroyo’s new enrollment came out with them in Division II). A couple Division I wins would certainly help playoff credentials and the Dons still have league games against four D-II schools to build up a solid resume and I’m thinking at least a 6-4 to 7-3 season is within reach.