Last month, the Catalina Foothills High School football program lost its coach to Ironwood Ridge.
Friday, Foothills replaced ex-coach Matt Johnson with the man who played a key role in making the Ironwood Ridge job so desirable.
Athletic director Jody Brase confirmed Sunday that Foothills hired former Ironwood Ridge defensive coordinator Scott Cortese as its head football coach.
“The expectations at Ironwood Ridge were high and I know they’ll be high at Foothills, too,” said the 46-year-old Cortese, who teaches in the Amhitheater School District at Painted Sky Elementary.
“The thing I got right away from talking with Jody and some people involved with the booster program, that school is so successful in so many sports, they’re hungry for success with the football program and I’m excited about that.”
Foothills is one of nine southern Arizona Class 4A or 5A schools making football coaching changes this offseason. Only Douglas, which hired a replacement for ex-coach John Necas only to see him resign a month later, has yet to name a football coach for the 2009 season.
Cortese takes over a Foothills program that appeared on the right track after one year under Johnson. The Falcons went 6-5 and advanced to the 4A Division I playoffs. All five of Foothills’ losses were to playoff teams.
“We believe that coach Cortese will provide the leadership for both the immediate transition and for the continuous development of the CFHS football program,” Brase wrote in an e-mail.
Cortese will be the fourth coach in as many years for the Foothills program, a revolving door he hopes to bring to an end.
“I told Jody I want my first head coaching job to be my last,” Cortese said.
Under Cortese and ex-Ironwood Ridge head coach Gary Minor, the Ironwood Ridge defense had developed into arguably the best in southern Arizona over the past two seasons and was what led the Nighthawks to last year’s Class 5A Division II semifinals, the deepest the program had ever advanced in the state playoffs.
Before losing to eventual undefeated state champion Peoria Centennial in the semifinals, Ironwood Ridge was 10-2 with both losses coming by a combined seven points and had allowed 132 points — 11.0 per game. In 2007, the team allowed 118 points (9.8/game) in an 8-4 season.
The defense also developed such high school stars as University of Arizona-bound Jake Fischer and fellow All-Southern Arizona linebacker Ray Cottman, who was among the state’s leaders with 110 tackles in 2008.
Cortese said he plans to use the same 4-4 scheme that was so successful at Ironwood Ridge and use a spread approach on offense.
He added he has talked with Johnson and the two are trying to help each other transition to their new schools.
For more on high school sports, check out the Grammer School sports blog.
Here is a run down of the Class 4A and 5A football coaching changes in southern Arizona since the and of the 2008 season:
Canyon del Oro
Out — Pat Nugent, now head coach at Pima Community College; In –Dusty Peace
Out — Matt Johnson, now head coach at Ironwood Ridge; In — Steve Cortese
Out — John Necas, resigned; In — Trevor Highfield; Out — Trevor Highfield, resigned; In — TBD
Out — Mario Pina, resigned; In — Mark Brunenkant
Out – Gary Minor, resigned; In — Matt Johnson
Out — Willie Dudley, resigned; In — Anthony Coronado
Out — Scott McKee, now head coach at Sahuaro; In — Michael Chadwick
Out — Pat Ryden, now defensive coordinator at Pima CC; In — Nate Gahn
Out — Chuck McCollom, resigned; In — Scott McKee