By Dan Guttenplan, FNF Coaches Managing Editor
Mark Cooley wanted to change the culture at Pleasant Valley (Calif.) after his hire in December of 2011. He fired a few veteran assistants and hired his own people. Last fall, Pleasant Valley won a Division 4-A State Championship.
Cooley had previously served as a defensive backs coach at Butte College and the head coach at Hamilton High before accepting the position at Pleasant Valley.
The most important quality he looked for when he interviewed assistants to round out his staff was loyalty. He asked each of the former coaches on the Pleasant Valley staff a number of questions to gauge their loyalty.
One example: What do you think of the previous coach?
“We preach positivity and not to bad-mouth anybody,” Cooley said. “If one of the assistants bad-mouthed the previous guy to make himself look better, I fired him. I had to fire a few of them, but I brought two back the next season.”
Cooley took no pleasure in leaving a few lifetime assistants without coaching gigs for the 2012 season, but wanted to send the message that everyone in his program needed to be pulling in the same direction.
“Firing an assistant … it’s horrible,” Cooley said. “It’s the worst. We were looking for a culture shift. The easiest way to do that is to bring in guys you’ve worked with that know your program, instead of teaching guys you don’t know. My questions were based on my philosophies, and some of the coaches answered correctly to what I was looking for.”
After his hire, Cooley preached that a team is a circle, and everyone around the circle is equal. CIRCLE, Cooley’s acronym for Commitment, Integrity, Respect, Champions, Learning, and Excellence, is what has helped bring the team together.
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