When the Santa Monica High football coaching job became available, a lot of people thought Travis Clark would be a worthy candidate.
“The phone started ringing and the emails came in from the community,” said the 39-year-old former Viking player and assistant coach. “So I began the process, got my resume together, amd let Norm Lacy know I was interested.”
Clark, who played for Samohi in the 1980s, was a star defensive back at Utah State, and had coached on Lacy’s staff at both St. Monica and Samohi. He also had coaching experience as an assistant at Inglewood High and in youth football.
Coming back to Samohi as head coach, he believed, would be like a dream coming true.
“We all went to Samohi,” he said. “My entire family. When I was younger I went to Will Rogers School and then John Adams. I thought putting on the Samohi uniform would be like advancing to manhood.”
But Lacy had other candidates too. A lot of them.
“There were 35 applicants,” said the Samohi athletic director. “Then five finalists. Some very good people.”
It’s not surprising that Lacy chose someone he knows well, someone he trusts to head the highest profile sport at the school. Last Friday he introduced Clark to the players as their new coach.
Lacy, the last coach to guide Samohi to a CIF championship, recommended the hiring of Samohi’s last two head coaches, Mike Burnett and Zach Cuda, but he was not the athletic director yet. This will be the first football coach he has formally hired.
Expectations are high and Clark doesn’t flinch.
For whatever reasons, Cuda isn’t coming back after an 8-3 season that included a couple of key league losses, a third place finish and a first round playoff defeat.
“I’ve been a fan, a player here and an assistant coach,” said Clark. “I know all about the expectations. I welcome the challenge.”
Samohi will play in the Ocean League again in 2009, but may be moved to the stronger Bay League in 2010.
“That would raise the bar,” said Lacy.
“When I played we were in the Bay League, and I have a greater history against those schools than the Ocean League,” said Clark. “Those schools have tough teams but that’s what competition s all about.”
Unlike Cuda, who was on campus all day as a teacher during his three years as head coach, Clark will be a walk-on, meaning he will work elsewhere, and coaching the team will be his only responsibility at Samohi.
It’s generally considered better if the coach is at the school full time, but many walk-on coaches have been successful.
Clark works for the NFL Network and Direct TV, and also has his own business teaching young players football skills.
He can learn some things about the Samohi players in off-season training, but won’t decide on a style of play until he has a better idea of his personnel.
Cuda favored a pounding running attack with a mixture of passes last season when Samohi had an outstanding group of offensive linemen. Most were seniors, and now the team’s strength appears to be its receivers and a returning quarterback in Garrett Safron. That would make a wide open attack, perhaps even a spread offense, likely.
Clark will only say he’s not set on anything, and the style can change from year to year.
“The personnel will dictate,” he said.
Amar Pal, Samohi’s best lineman in 2008, will sign a letter of intent this week and is believed to be favoring San Jose State.
Lacy said Samohi will again play non-league games next season against Leuzinger, Palisades, Venice and Capistrano Valley besides its Ocean League opponents, No non-league game have yet to be scheduled.
Culver City, which has won the Ocean League three straight years, will also have a new coach.
After the highly successful Tom Salter recently resigned the Centaurs announced that assistant Jamal Wright will take over.
“It was time,” said Salter, who coached the team the last 10 years. “And Jamal is ready.”