Trent Herzog always knew there would be a brighter day. He just didn’t know it would be this bright, so bright he wakes up smiling, breaks into a grin around noon and then goes to bed looking like he just cashed the winning lottery ticket. Make no mistake, happiness is the best drug known to man.
“When I first heard about the job,” Herzog said, “it sounded great, almost too great, too great to be true. Then, as time passed, I found out people were right. The job is great.”
St. Vincent this week announced Herzog is the Mustangs’ new head football coach. In Petaluma, a city with 60,000 residents who can’t help themselves to the latest whisper, the news spread like a leaked CIA secret with all the necessary intrigue attached to it. After all, it was just over a year ago, Jan. 30 to be exact, that Casa Grande High School announced it would not be renewing Herzog’s annual contract “without cause.”
Indignation, protests, anger. Those three wild horses ran amok around town. Herzog was Coach of the Year in two leagues (SCL, NBL), won three league titles, had 28 of his players goon to play college football and Casa won 66 percent (66-34) of its games. If one were to poke some of the Petaluma citizenry even today, their disgust would flare quickly, so close to the surface it remains.
Herzog? He’ll have none of it.
“I have great memories of Casa,” Herzog said. “I worked with people who will be my friends for life. I thank Casa for everything they have done for me. It didn’t work out. But everything happens for a reason.”
That reason is St. Vincent. A fraction of the size of Casa Grande, the Catholic school nonetheless need not make any apology for either its academics or athletics. It is a school with a strong desire and history to excel in both. Reputation is the coin of the realm for a small school; that’s why principal Patrick Daly spent so much time and effort in hiring a football coach.
“A successful football program sets the tone on campus,” said Daly. “It creates a spirit that spreads throughout the school, including the other athletic programs.”
Daly and his search committee took two months to vet 14 candidates. Daly went into exhaustive detail, probed without apology into each candidate’s resume, reputation and character.
A former linebacker in high school and college (he played one year at Sonoma State before injuries took their toll), Daly knew the football landscape. He also knew the coaching legends in the area.
So when Steve Ellison’s letter of recommendation arrived, Daly nodded with pleasure. Elllison a former Petaluma High School head coach, is without peer when it comes to judging character because, well, he has so much of it. Rick O’Brien sent a recommendation letter and that was impressive as well, since it came from an employee of the school that pushed Herzog out the door. And then there was Larry Gondola.
“Larry’s unqualified recommendation carried a lot of impact,” Daly said. Years ago Gondola took a Marin Catholic program on the sag and made it a private school powerhouse. Daly was the athletic director at Marin Catholic for Gondola’s last year as coach in 1993. Could Herzog make the move from a large public school to a small private one? Without question, Gondola said. “Trent is the guy for you,” he told Daly.