With the hire of Jerome Lee as the new head coach of the South City Warriors came a marked change in the direction for the varsity football program.
Since the inception of the current South San Francisco High School campus, there have only been five previous varsity football head coaches — Ray DeJong (1950-78), Mike Tenerowitz (1979-93), Ben White (1994-2001), Frank Moro (2002-13) and Jay Oca (2014-17) — the latter four each overlapping with his predecessor.
This year marks the first time in program history South City has broken with tradition, going completely out of its circle, and its previous coaching staff, to make a head coaching hire. Lee was an assistant coach at Independence High School in 2017 and previously served as the junior-varsity head coach at Woodside.
“I wanted a head coaching job, wanted to run my own program,” Lee said, “and South City did a heck of a thing and gave me a chance to coach my first varsity program.”
South City’s five previous coaches had the following correlations: DeJong, for whom South City’s football field was renamed, took over the varsity team when the school moved from its previous location on Spruce Ave. to its current campus on B St.
When Tenerowitz took over in 1979, DeJong remained on staff as the junior-varsity head coach and athletic director. White was hired as a junior-varsity coach in 1993, while Tenerowitz coached his final season for the Warriors before moving to Mills. Moro, who served as an assistant coach under Tenerowitz, remained on White’s staff, took over the team when White departed for Carlmont in 2002. Oca, who was handpicked by Moro as his predecessor, served as a junior-varsity coach and varsity assist for three seasons until Moro stepped down.
“I just thought it was special,” said White, who has since coached at Carlmont and Capuchino, before moving out of the area to take over the program at Orosi High School in Tulare County last year. “I was the third-ever coach in the history of the [South City]. There’s always so much turnover at the school. So, I always felt great pride coaching at South City.”
With Lee’s hire, South City has essentially broken the chain. The school had a chance to stay the course as longtime varsity assistant Kolone Pua interviewed for the head coaching job. After the school hired Lee, Pua opted to join Oca’s staff as an assistant at Capuchino.
Oca said leaving South City was a family decision. Now at Capuchino, Oca took on and defeated South City last week 40-6 in a non-league game.
“It was a family decision, a family move,” Oca said. “I love South City. I think South City is a great place to be. I have nothing but positive memories of great times.”
White’s departure after the 2001 season came in the wake of his leading the Warriors to the Central Coast Section playoffs in back-to-back seasons, the last time the team has accomplished that feat. They reached the CCS postseason for a third straight year in 2002 under Moro. They returned in 2005 and ’11.
White said the reason he left for Carlmont was specifically because of the pay raise. He said he received an approximate pay increase of $20,000 as an on-campus teacher and varsity coach in moving to the Sequoia Union High School District.
“I would have never left South City because we always had athletes, we always had talent,” White said. “I loved the kids over there.”
Oca’s pay increase in moving from the South San Francisco Unified School District to the San Mateo Union High School District was similarly as substantial. According to district records, an on-campus teacher such as Oca, with 12 or more years experience and a master’s degree as he has, makes a base annual salary of $81,585. The same qualifications in the San Mateo Union High School District net an annual base salary of $115,277.
Lee is not a teacher, but does start his new position as an on-campus paraprofessional next Monday. He said he is committed to applying an academic culture to the football team, however. Heading into his first season as coach, Lee faced myriad eligibility issues. His response to such issues was institute a mandatory afterschool study hall for all his players.
“What I did bring in, I implemented a study-hall program immediately,” Lee said. “The ineligibility bug has hit my program. I inherited … a lot of kids who were ineligible. So when I was hired, that was my main focus.”
There was also a low turnout of players during summer practice sessions. Because of this, South City didn’t have enough athletically eligible players to accommodate two football rosters. So, Lee suspended the junior-varsity schedule for the non-league season, moving all athletically eligible players to the varsity roster. Hence, the South City junior-varsity team forfeited its first three games of the year.
“We will fill the junior-varsity team by Sept. 14 when we go to Jefferson,” Lee said.
According to California Interscholastic Federation bylaws, football players must log a total of 10 days of practice apiece before being cleared to play in a game. He said there were additional obstacles in getting players’ paperwork properly filed through the online registry.
“That’s the only reason that the JV team has been slow to start,” Lee said.