Vinnie Lopez, who guided El Rancho High School’s football team to the Del Rio League championsip last season, has left the school to take over as the new varsity football head coach at Garden Grove Pacifica.
Lopez, 38, was named the Whittier Daily News Coach of the Year in 2014, after helping El Rancho to one of its best seasons in recent memory. The Dons went 8-3, swept the Del Rio League and made the playoffs before a shocking first-round loss to Burbank.
“It was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my professional career,” Lopez said. “It’s not something that I took lightly. I love the kids at El Rancho, I love the community and I’m very thankful for the opportunity the administration gave me when they hired me.”
Lopez was 19-13 in his three seasons at El Rancho. The Dons made a big splash last season by beating perennial power La Serna on their way to the league championship.
Pacifica is part of the Garden Grove School District, which is one of the top-paying school districts in the Southern Section. The opportunity for Lopez to improve his income was too much to pass up. But he knows things won’t be easy at a school that has won just four games combined in the past two seasons.
“It was really difficult making that decision, going from a program that had just won a league championship and now what, now we’re going to start all over,” Lopez said. “We’re going back to square one, I guess. But I watched Pacifica on film before I accepted the position and the potential is there. The kids play hard and they play fast. They just need a little different direction.
“I really feel like we can go in there and be competitive right away. Sure, they were 2-8 last year but they were in almost every football game.”
The vacancy at El Rancho will no doubt be a popular target for would-be coaches. The Dons lost a lot of production to graduation but also have several key players back, like defensive standout Malachi Allen, who is being heavily recruited.
There are also several former El Rancho assistants from past coaching staffs who are still coaching in the area and may like to take a crack at the job.
“You always want to leave the place in a better spot than when you took over and I really feel like we did that,” Lopez said. “They were struggling in league and the past three years we’ve gone 11-4 in league and won a league championship.
“You think about that and it makes it a little bit easier, but it really doesn’t because it’s never an easy decision to walk away from great kids and a championship-level program.”