Q & A with Upland HC Darryl Thomas

Upland head coach Darryl Thomas gave us some time for a Q & A.

Darryl Thomas was the head coach at Covina for 15 years, won five Valle Vista League titles and won over 100 games before stepping down after the 2011 season. He then took a job as an assistant at Upland and was named the head coach before the 2019 campaign. Last year he led Upland to the 2nd round of the CIF Division 2 playoffs. Recently I had the opportunity for a Q & A with him.

Q: How are you and your coaching staff communicating with your players during this current pandemic?
A: Since this pandemic our coaching staff has communicated with our players through Google classroom, email, text messages, phone calls, and social media. Since school closures on March 13, we have told our players that we would send them weekly workouts until we started Spring Football on April 27. We told the players that we were going to prepare the same as if we were in school. On April 27 we started having Zoom meetings three days a week installing our offense, defense, and special teams, philosophies, and continuing to build the culture. The players were tested on the material every two weeks through Google classroom. We also had workout competitions where we asked them to post their workouts and the players voted on the best one.

Q: Where did you play high school football and what position?
A: The high school I attended was Glen A. Wilson High School in Hacienda Heights from 1982-1986 where I played strong safety and running back.

Q: I know you went on to play after high school in college at UC Santa Barbara. How did you decide on UCSB?
A: After high school I decided to play at UC Santa Barbara where I played cornerback. UCSB had the sport of football back, under the NCAA, for 6 years and I played 4 out of those 6 years. I met some great people, who I am still very close with today. I decided to go there because it was really the only school who recruited me and once I went on a recruiting trip to see the campus and saw how beautiful it was, I was all in.

Q: When did you decide you wanted to be a high school football coach?
A: I decided to be a high school football coach when I was in college at UCSB. My mother was a teacher for 39 years so I knew the importance of education. Also as I was taking my courses at UCSB and started to learn about interesting things that were new to me I wanted to share with others. The more I learned, the more I wanted to teach. As my playing career was coming to an end, I knew that I still wanted football in my life in the future so I looked into coaching.

Q: What was your first coaching job?
A: My first coaching job was in 1991 at Wilson High School where I coached running backs, assisted with Special Teams, and in the weight room under Head Coach Scott Smith. I coached at my Alma mater for 2 years before I received a teaching position at Covina High School in November of 1992.

Q: You were the head coach at Covina for 15 years and won over 100 games before stepping down and then becoming the DC and now head coach at Upland. What is the difference between coaching at Covina and Upland? Or is there a difference?
A: Yes, I did coach at Covina High School for 19 years (15 years as head coach and 4 years as an assistant) and it was a great time. I have been coaching at Upland High School for 8 years now (1 year as head coach, 7 years as an assistant coach) and The U is a very special place. As far as the differences in coaching at the two schools, I believe coaching is coaching and no matter where you are you are trying to help players reach their full potential while playing this great sport. However, if I had to tell you the one difference between the two schools it has to do with the size of the schools. Because Upland has over 3,000 students the teams are much larger and since the teams are larger, the fight for starting positions can get pretty competitive. We all know that competition makes everyone better. Also because you have more players on the team you can have different personnel groups at larger schools compared to a smaller school. Regardless of this, I have really enjoyed coaching at both high schools.

Q: What coach had the biggest influence on you and why?
A: I am a big believer in Tony Robbins’s acronym C.A.N.I. (Constant And Never-ending Improvement) so I am constantly trying to get better through clinics, books, videos, podcasts, and people you come in contact with throughout my career. You can always learn something regardless if you are in a good or bad situation. It is very hard to pinpoint only one coach who has had the biggest influence on me because I have had so many coaching influences throughout my coaching career. Some I have admired from afar by reading their books, watching their videos, or attending their clinics like Pete Carroll, Lou Holtz, John Wooden, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin. Other influences I have had a personal relationship with like my high school coach Dave Merrill (Wilson High School) and college coach Rick Candaele (UCSB). Still other influences have been mentors of mine who I wanted to learn from like Tim Salter (Upland High School), Greg Gano (Don Lugo High School), Dick Sheehan (Covina High School), and Lenny Rodriguez (Mt. SAC). Finally all of the coaches I’ve competed against who have challenged my coaching abilities and philosophies have influenced me to make changes. For example, trying to slow down the Wing-T offense of Bill Zernickow (Northview High School and San Dimas High School) and now the high powered offense of Rancho Cucamonga High School coached Coach Mark Vert will have an influence on you. It will influence you to find a better way, which makes you a better coach.

Q: Last year Upland went 6-6 overall and advanced to the 2nd round of the CIF Division 2 playoffs falling to Chaminade in overtime. How does this year’s squad look?
A: In my first year at Upland High School we finished with a record of 8-4 (on the field) and advanced to the Division 2 Quarterfinals where we lost to Chaminade 28-27 in overtime. We were unsuccessful in a 2 point conversion in overtime. For the 2020 Season, we have 5 returning offensive starters and 5 defensive starters from that team. Though we have some big holes to fill the players were working hard before school closure. The atmosphere in the weight room was competitive, encouraging, and the players were really looking forward to the upcoming season. Hopefully, we can regain some of that momentum once we are allowed to meet with the players again on the field.

Q: In your opinion will there be a season this year? And if so what will it look like? Will it be abbreviated?
A: When you ask if there is going to be a football season next year I believe it comes down to what county your school is located in and the school district. I know at least one district has said that they will not have contact sports in the Fall, however, most districts are on hold. That being said I still believe most schools will have a football season, unfortunately, I do not know what it is going to look like. Again it depends on the county health office and the school districts.

Q: Who are the 5 best players that you have ever coached?
A: This will be my 29th year coaching this wonderful sport of football which I still love. When you ask me to choose the 5 best players who I have ever coached that is a really tough task. I have been blessed and fortunate to coach some outstanding players who have really made me look like a great coach because let’s be honest, the players make the plays. Most of the time we just try to put them in the best place to be successful. Some of these players who were outstanding high school football players that I was fortunate to coach and that I need to mention are: Jeff Wright (Covina ’98), Johnny Grant (Covina ’01), Jamal James (Covina ’07), Charles Shorts ’08), Vinny Venegas (Covina ’12), Phil Romano (Covina ’12), James Johnson (Upland ’13), Jo Jo Mathis (Upland ’13), Troy Thomas (Upland ’15), Fou Hoching (Upland ’18), Corey Thomas (Upland ’18), and Tyevin Ford (Upland ’20). These players all played the game the right way: fast, physical, with plenty of emotion, and always had a team first mentality. However, my top 6 players of all time because I couldn’t decide on 5 are, in chronological order:

Nin Burns (Covina ’96): An all CIF player who was the catalyst behind the 1995 Undefeated CIF Champions. Nin was a phenomenal athlete with cat-like quickness and speed. He played running back, wide receiver, quarterback, linebacker and defensive back throughout his 3 year career on varsity. However, most fans remember Nin for his electrifying kick off and punt returns. In fact, during his junior year vs. San Marino, Nin returned a kick-off to the house with 3 seconds left on the clock. San Marino was smart to squib the ball, however, our boys, including our starting tailback, were instructed to pitch it back to Nin. Two laterals later, Nin had it and the rest is history. He was the first high school player who I noticed who had a following of kids and adults alike. Good thing there wasn’t any social media back in those days.

Nick Covarrubias (Covina ’98): As a sophomore “Cova” blocked the go ahead field goal attempt by Lompoc with seconds on the clock to preserve the lead in the 1995 CIF Championship game. He played DE that year just because we needed him on the field. As a junior he played quarterback and free safety in which he led the team to an 8-3 record. During his senior year it was always nice to know that every competition we went into, Cova was leading us and that the rest of the team believed he could lead us to victory. He was an All CIF player, MVP of the Valle Vista League, and the San Gabriel Valley Player of the Year during his senior year. Cova would do absolutely anything for his team. Cova is one of a kind.

Michael McDonough (Covina ’07): It was once said that “The Moose” was ‘made to play football and that he was a throwback player’. Much like Cova, Moose played defensive end during his sophomore year because we needed him on the field. Once he switched positions, all he did as a junior and senior seasons was to rewrite the record books for Covina High School and the San Gabriel Valley. During those two years he passed for over 5,400 yards; rushed for another 1,900 yards; accounted for 104 touchdowns (65 passing/39 rushing); and started at middle linebacker recording over 100 tackles. (Our offensive coordinator, Joe Brown, and I had an agreement that McDonough played defense until we got up 14 points on a team. During some games he played the whole game on both sides of the ball.) Moose was a 2 time All CIF player, MVP of the Valle Vista League twice, and is still only 1 of 2 players to be named the San Gabriel Valley Tribune Player of the Year. (The other player is Eric Bieniemy from Bishop Amat). McDonough was a tough hard nosed player who just loved to play ball.

Josh Woods (Upland ’15): “Woodsey” was blessed with size, speed, agility, and smarts. He received his first D1 offer after Arizona State saw him run around in practice during his junior year. Josh played running back and outside linebacker and was always the best player on the field each and every game we played. Could have rewrote the record books as a running back, but he split time because it was the best thing for the team. He was the type of player who could mess up the technique, but because he was such a freakish athlete he could make most of the plays. I don’t how many times I said, ‘Woodsey you have to be careful. You are lucky you are such a great athlete’. Graduated high school early and enrolled at UCLA just barely 17 years old. Graduated from UCLA in 3 1/2 years and finished his masters degree the following year. Woodsey is definitely destined for greatness off the field, just like he was on the field.

Gary Baker (Upland ’15): 6′ 5″, 285 lbs in high school, Gary is a gentle giant. He played both offensive tackle and defensive tackle for the Highlanders. Very dominant on both sides of the ball. In fact, once when Gary was playing the 3 technique Gary split the double team from the tackle and guard, blew up the lead blocker, and made the tackle on the running back for a loss. (We had a great time in films with that play.) On offense, Gary once drove a player off the field and deposited him in the kicking net. When asked why he did that he explained that the player had called him a name and when he told the referee, he told Gary, ‘stop complaining and take care of it.’ So he did. Gary went on to play defensive line for the Oregon Ducks.

Justin Flowe (Upland ’20): Enough said……If you don’t know who he is you probably shouldn’t be reading this article anyways, but, just for fun, Google his name, type in his name into YouTube, or check his Instagram. And yes he is that physical, fast, and violent. Instincts are off the chart and is the only player we have allowed to ‘do his thing’ on certain calls. Though he is the strongest, fastest, most violent player on the field, what impressed me the most is how much he enjoys to play the game of football. You can see the emotion when he plays and that passion is infectious. So far I have never coached a future NFL player and if “Baby-Man” isn’t one then I will probably never coach one. Justin was an All-American, the Dick Butkus Award Winner, and any other award given to high school players. Baby-Man is a one-in-generation type player.

1 Comment to "Q & A with Upland HC Darryl Thomas"

  1. Anonymous's Gravatar Anonymous
    June 11, 2020 - 9:58 pm | Permalink

    This coach is a class act and does things the right way.

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