There were three new football head coaches hired in the Peninsula Athletic League during the offseason.
But they should all feel right at home.
For Pete Lavorato, stepping down after 14 years as the head coach of Sacred Heart Prep lands him closer to home as he takes over the program at the King’s Academy in his hometown Sunnyvale.
With Lavorato’s departure from SHP, his offensive coordinator for the past two seasons, Mark Grieb, was hired to take charge of the Gators.
A similar move was made at Capuchino, where Ben White stepped down after three years as varsity head coach. White’s longtime assistant coach at three different schools, Miguel Nava, was promoted from defensive coordinator to varsity head coach.
The other 15 football teams in the PAL will see returning head coaches.
Lavorato’s departure from SHP in March was the biggest shocker. Having posted a 123-46 career record while earning two Northern California championships, he was tied as the third longest tenured coach in the PAL. Only Aragon’s Steve Sell (now entering his 18th season) and Burlingame’s John Philipopoulos (entering his 16th) had helmed a single team longer.
Grieb said even he was shocked when Lavorato stepped down, and was equally surprised at the departure of longtime defensive coordinator Mark Modeste, who took over the varsity program at Houston Strake Jesuit in Texas.
“Pete was a huge influence,” Grieb said. “He’s a phenomenal coach and I’m really grateful for the opportunity he gave me to come coach at Sacred Heart. I learned a lot of what it means to be a head coach and that you can have an impact on young people’s lives. I think even more than football, Pete is all about having an effect on young people’s lives. And that’s stuck with me.”
A former Arena Football League star with the San Jose SaberCats — Grieb led the team to three AFL championships, including ArenaBowl MVP honors in 2004 and ’07 — he was a well-travelled assistant coach, and served as the head coach at Menlo College for two seasons before the NAIA program folded in 2014.
It was while he was at Menlo College that Lavorato approached him about working with his SHP quarterbacks, including 2016 graduate Mason Randall, who went on to become the program’s most proficient passer during Lavorato’s tenure.
With Grieb’s twin daughters in grade school at SHP when Menlo College folded, it was a natural progression that he should join Lavorato’s staff.
“When [Menlo College] dropped the program, it was kind of a no-brainer for a number of reasons,” Grieb said.
Lavorato is plenty keen to the idea of mentorships, as he had a good one during his professional career in the Canadian Football League. In winning five Grey Cups as a defensive back with the Edmonton Eskimos, four of them were with CFL legend Don Matthews serving as defensive coordinator.
Matthews — who died in June at age 77 — not only had an impact on Lavorato’s coaching career. Many of the elder coach’s teachings impacted the success of the SHP program.
“A lot of what we did on defense at Sacred Heart and now King’s comes directly from Don Matthews,” Lavorato said.
Taking over at TKA for Michael Johnson Sr. — who is transitioning to University of Oregon as a wide receivers coach — Lavorato is staying true to the teachings of Matthews, installing the same systems that worked so well for him at SHP.
“They’re not doing anything they did last year,” Lavorato said of TKA. “I’m running my system that I know, so it’s pretty dramatic. But football is football. They still have to block and tackle and learn plays. There are some similarities, but not a lot.”
Long before Nava joined White’s staff at Capuchino, the two had partnered on a similar mentorship.
White — who left Cap to take over the program at Orosi High School in Tulare County — has served as head coach for three different PAL teams, including Carlmont and South City. When White took South City to the Central Coast Section semifinals in 2001, Nava was a senior linebacker
Nava and Mustangs offensive coordinator Marcus Farhad both coached under White at various programs, including Carlmont where Farhad served as head coach in 2013.
“We’re all part of the Ben White coaching tree,” Nava said.
Cap will be Nava’s first varsity head coaching post. He served as the junior-varsity head coach at his alma mater South City, but stepped down in 2014 after the birth of his first son, Rafael.
“I never thought I’d be coaching this long to be honest with you,” Nava said. “But coaching, it keeps me connected to the game.”