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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.

“And Larry doesn’t say that about a lot of people,” Daly said.

And then there were the four meetings Daly and Herzog held, with questions as real as real can get. Daly wanted no surprises. Neither did Herzog, since he had just experienced a devastating one.

“Everything checked out about Trent as a person,” Daly said. “That was the most important thing for me. He really cares about the kids. He really wants them to do well in the classroom. He has that unique personality who can work with students, parents and benefactors.”

Daly made no secret he was impressed 28 of Herzog’s kids played college football. And Daly made no attempt to hide from Herzog St. Vincent’s equal commitment to academic zeal: “Two years ago,” Daly said, “we had eight kids from one class accepted at Cal.” In the past 10 years, 95 percent of St. Vincent’s graduating classes went to college.

Herzog, 42, will keep his job as Western Region Director of Scouting for National Preps. He will continue to scout high school prospects for 220 colleges, an occupation that demands little of his time during the season.

“It’ll demand strong time-management skills,” Herzog said, “and I’ve always been good at that.”

A defensive coordinator at Montgomery High School last football season, Herzog is in the process of assembling a 14-member coaching staff. Most of the coaches will be known in Sonoma County. That will not be Herzog’s only advantage in the area.

“I’m guessing a lot of the younger kids will be following Trent across town,” said Stan Switala, St. Vincent’s athletic director. “Trent is well-known and respected. He can get kids to the next level. We’re really looking forward for Trent working at St. Vincent. Everything I’ve heard, it’s all been positive.”

That alone is worth a news story. The buzz is surprisingly one-sided.

“Trent is not a good fit for St. Vincent,” Daly said. “Trent is a great fit.”

Of course Daly says that today. And he should. But a football season is a succession of todays. It’s a steady stream of decisions and verbal commands, some borne of the emotion of the moment, some saddled with failure. It’ll occur in Petaluma, a fishbowl with Herzog now a big fish, a bigger fish, frankly, than he was before. How will he swim?

“I’ll be under a microscope,” Herzog said. “That’s OK. I like the challenge. I like the pressure.”

Trent Herzog likes his new job. Trent Herzog is happy. Trent Herzog has left Casa in his rear view. The principal likes his new coach. The principal loves his new coach. There, that should be enough for a small town that pretends it’s a big city. Let the gossip begin.

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