San Marino High School’s search for a new football coach came to an end recently as Principal Issaic Gates announced the hiring of Justin Mesa.
Mesa accepted the position on Wednesday, April 17, ending a nearly three-month hunt for the successor to former head coach Mike Hobbie, who resigned from the position and announced his retirement on Jan. 23.
“Coach Mesa is a rare find as a high school coach, with his knowledge of the Xs and Os and having learned it at the highest levels of college football,” Gates said. “His relationship skills with recruiting kids and his experiences in coaching high school football makes him refined, and I think we’re lucky in San Marino that he wants to be the coach here.”
“His credentials are very impressive,” said SMHS Athletic Director David Irie. “Anytime you can get a coach with high school and college experience is a plus. He has a very calm demeanor and is very professional. That’s always something you look for in a coach. He doesn’t seem to be rattled by anything. He is also a very intelligent person.”
Mesa, 36, was the director of recruiting at the University of Wyoming the past two years, during which the football program had the highest-rated recruiting class in the Mountain West Conference since 2011.
The plan is to have Hobbie, who was part of the committee set up to hire a formidable coach, continue working with the
students who are part of the football class during sixth period. Irie said Hobbie agreed to run the class and help integrate the new coach into the school and community. Mesa is expected to arrive on May 1.
“I’m excited,” Hobbie said in a release sent by the school. “He was my top choice. Coach Mesa has been around some high-level programs and knows what it takes to do a good job. He’s the guy who can keep our winning traditions going.”
Mesa had several administrative and coaching roles at USC from 2007-12 and also served as an offensive coordinator at Los Angeles Loyola High School from 2012-15 before accepting a position with Wyoming.
He worked with head coach Craig Bohl in his two years with the Cowboys, but despite finding success in recruiting, Mesa wanted to return to coaching.
“Wyoming is a great place to raise a family, but I just wasn’t coaching,” Mesa told The Outlook. “I have a true belief that this is what I was put on this earth to do. I want to coach young men and women. It was always about getting back to coaching football, and I gave coach Bohl my word that I’d stay on for two years.”
Mesa heard about the opening at SMHS from former Loyola head coach Marvin Sanders, who suggested he apply for the position. The opportunity to return to Los Angeles would unite Mesa and his family with his stepdaughter, who was unable to move to Wyoming.
“We didn’t want to break the family up,” he said. “I have a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old, and perspective changes a bit when you start to build a family. The opportunity in Wyoming was something I could not turn down.
“Returning to the area is nice, but it had to be the right situation where I could feel comfortable and build something and build upon the culture that was built by Hobbie.”
Irie said they did not find “the right fit” for San Marino during the first round of interviews, and the school decided to extend and expand its search. Mesa said he sent his application on Wednesday, April 10. The school reached out to him and set up a video interview days later.
“He had a very clear knowledge for football,” Irie said of the interview. “We had a couple of football questions during the interview and his answers were clearly the best. Justin is very smart and has a very good football mind.”
San Marino offered Mesa the open the position days later, and the 36-year-old was glad to accept and get back on the sidelines.
“We want to develop a program where kids enjoy themselves,” Mesa said. “We’re talking about a game. We’re going to have high expectations, and the goal every year is to win league. If we do that, other things will come from it. That’s going to be the focus. Nothing higher, nothing shorter.”
The football staff will be assembled when Mesa arrives at San Marino, and he hopes to hire coaches as committed to the players as he is.
“The guys who have been on the staff will have first dibs on any opportunity,” Mesa said. “Those are people who have been invested in the program and have done a real good job. We want to find people who are excited to be a part of the program.”
Mesa watched film on the team from last season and looks forward to working with the San Marino athletes.
“I’m encouraged from what I’ve seen on the field as far as effort,” he said. “We’re going to focus on the effort, and as long as we have kids who play hard, which San Marino has a culture of doing, then we’re going to be fine.”