Mirror Sports Writer
Zach Cuda, an economics teacher and assistant football coach at Santa Monica High the last three years, is the Vikings’ new head coach.
Cuda began three weeks of spring practice on May 22. His brother, Conrad, has also been on the staff as the linebackers’ coach and has been promoted to defensive coordinator.
Cuda, who was the head junior varsity coach last season, grew up in Portland, attended Oregon State and earned his Master’s Degree in 2003 from the University of Oregon.
“At that time I began applying all over and was hired at Santa Monica,’’ he said. “About a year ago Mike Burnett brought up the possibility that he might relocate back to Virginia and I’d be one of the people he’d support to become head coach.
“When Mike left officially, I applied and went through an intense process consisting of a screening and three interviews. It was a good, fair process. I can’t think of a better situation.’’
Burnett and his wife have two children and he cited the difficulty in buying a home in Southern California as the primary reason why he accepted a head coaching job in Virginia.
Cuda is a bachelor. He had the advantage over other candidates of having the teaching credential that Samohi considered vital.
In speaking with Cuda, Burnett and former Samohi coach Norm Lacy, who conducted one of the interviews, the word “continuity’’ came up several times.
It is important, they believe, that the new coach is familiar with the personnel and the system that has been successful the last two years when Samohi won six games, then eight. Samohi, Beverly Hills and Culver City are the favorites to prevail in the Ocean League in 2006.
Samohi was in the race to the finish last season before losing to Beverly Hills. The Vikings, entering the playoffs with a road game, then lost in the first round.
Cuda coached the quarterbacks and has helped in the development of Ryan Katz, Samohi’s star passer who will be a junior next season and is likely to have a Division 1 future.
Cuda favors the I-formation. Like any new head coach he will bring new ideas but doesn’t plan to make drastic changes in the methods employed by Burnett.
“The continuity is important,’’ he said. “Some things will be different but you’ll have to look closely to notice. The defense, especially, will be very similar.’’
Cuda is proud, as Burnett was, of the fact solid citizens from the city play football for Samohi.
“We didn’t have anyone on probation last season,’’ he said.
In an era where it’s increasingly easy for players to go from school to school Samohi has discouraged possible transfers. Most players come up from the Viking fresh-soph and junior varsity teams and practice with the varsity daily.
“That gives them three years working with varsity coaches,’’ Cuda said.
There will be a few new assistants. Lacy described the group as “a young coaching staff.’’
In his analysis of the 2006 Vikings, Burnett cited the offensive line as a target for improvement. Cuda said he too will look for improvement there.
The talent is in place at many positions. Besides Katz it includes running backs Lewis Adeyemi and E.J. Wood, highly recruited receiver and defensive back Cameron Collins, all-league offensive lineman Justin Williams, all-league kicker Jordan Rosenbeck and all-league defensive lineman Damon Middleton.
However, there were several graduation losses including linebacker Robert Garcia, tight end Christoff Neumann, defensive back Freddie Leslie and offensive lineman Max Forer.
When it wasn’t certain if Samohi would hire a coach in time for spring practice practice, others at the school were going to handle the duty. That included Lacy, the last coach to win a CIF championship at Samohi.
However, there is a value to having Cuda in place now. He can use the spring practice to give players a good idea of what he expects.
Samohi hasn’t announced its football schedule but it is known that the Vikings will play at powerful Los Alamitos in the fifth week.
Burnett set up the game, reasoning that it will be good for Samohi to oppose a playoff-caliber opponent midway through the season in a non-league game.