Scurran Returns

A legendary coach takes the clipboard at Catalina Foothills with his detractors at his heels

The first comment attached to the Facebook post said it all: "Here we go again."

The commenter was Joan Scurran, the wife of the most successful and—depending on whom you talk to—the most controversial high school football coach in Southern Arizona history.

It was the evening of Dec. 20, and Jeff Scurran decided it was time to get "back in the saddle again," as he put it, posting that he would take over the woeful football program at Catalina Foothills High School.

Scurran heading back to the sidelines means two things: Foothills is going to become very good, and probably very soon; and the We Hate Jeff Scurran Club will dust off the cobwebs after three years of hibernation.

Scurran might have as many haters as fans in this community, though the former haven't flooded his Facebook page or his iPhone inbox with messages since his return to the preps was announced. The detractors will wait before making their voices heard—though some will probably take to the comments section of the online version of this article—choosing instead to gripe and undoubtedly find fault later on with the inevitable success Scurran will have at Foothills. The school dominates the country club sports but has won just a single playoff game in 19 years of football.

The Falcons were 0-10 last year, the same record that Santa Rita High School had the year before Scurran went there in 2007. That season, Santa Rita went 11-2, followed by back-to-back 12-2 seasons that both ended in defeats in the state title game.

If Scurran can turn around yet another crummy football program, it'll cement his status as a coaching mastermind. Unless you're anti-Scurran—then it's because he cheated.

Scurran knows his detractors aren't about to stop. It comes with being successful, he says, adding that it's not worth worrying about. He doesn't understand why people feel compelled to bring up the many allegations about him tossed about over the years. Most of them remain unproven, although his departure from Santa Rita did coincide with the firing of the principal who brought him there.

"I've finally just gotten tired of people always feeling they need to say, 'Oh, he's alleged to do this or that,'" Scurran said, putting down his 6-inch Subway turkey sandwich in frustration during a recent interview.

Despite the haters, Scurran didn't hesitate to throw his hat back in the ring after learning that Lute Olson, of all people, thought he'd be a good fit at Foothills.

"The stars just aligned," Scurran said, referring to how Foothills athletic director Jody Brase—Olson's daughter—said Lute brought up Scurran when Brase asked her dad for advice on hiring a coach.

Scurran didn't need to come back to the sidelines in Tucson. He had a cushy gig coaching a semipro team in Italy, not to mention a recurring role as head coach for a high school all-star team that would travel to other countries to play games. He's also been a longtime motivational speaker for national weight training outfit Bigger, Faster, Stronger. But traveling the world and racking up frequent flier miles had started to wear on the 65-year-old, who seemed to be looking for an excuse to get tied to Tucson again on a full-time basis.

It wasn't that he needed to prove anything on the field, not after he'd already blazed a trail of victories at Sabino High School, then Pima Community College and then—amazingly—at Santa Rita. Including his short stints at out-of-state schools prior to moving to Tucson in the mid-1980s, Scurran has won 255 games in his career against just 79 losses and two ties.

He won three state titles in 12 seasons at Sabino, from 1988 to 1999, turning the northeast side school into a nationally recognized football power, something current coach (and former Scurran assistant) Jay Campos has for the most part continued, albeit in a much less Scurran-like (read: attention-grabbing and envy-inducing) manner.

He then did what no one in the previous 30 years could do: Get Pima College to back a football program. During his stay there from 2000 to 2004, Scurran developed a nationally ranked team that gave hundreds of local athletes a chance to keep playing after high school.

He then added to his legacy with the three-year run at Santa Rita, going 35-6 at a school that since has gone 8-21.

But for every instance of on-the-field magic attributed to Scurran, there are claims that he abused the system to reach his lofty perch. There are accusations of recruiting players and massaging grades while at Sabino, and of turning Pima into a win-at-all-costs program that preferred out-of-state talent to local players. While at Santa Rita, he was accused of negotiating a position at the school that he never really held but still got paid for.

Other than aspects of the Santa Rita allegations, which TUSD says they found during a 2009 investigation that led to the firing of John Hanson, the principal who brought Scurran there in 2007, there's no tangible proof for any of the other claims.

Then why bring them up, Scurran wonders.

"I've said my piece about the past," he said. "That's the last I'm going to say about it."

Those are essentially the same words Scurran used when he was introduced to more than 250 Foothills players and parents the night he was hired. Scurran says he's not going to worry about what happened in the past, and is focusing on what's going on now and what will happen.

"I have a lot of expectations," he said. "But there's no calendar attributed to any of them. I'm going to take this seriously, like I do everything. I don't have a part-time gear."

Foothills will beat some teams next year that it has no business beating. And depending on whom you talk to, it will either be because of Scurran's coaching or his ability to work the system and get away with murder.

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