Make no mistake: Darren Yafai is excited to be the new Christopher High football coach—it just wasn’t on his radar.
“By no means at all (was I thinking of doing this),” said Yafai, who spent the last five years as an assistant coach helping the Cougars’ junior varsity squad and when the program had it, the freshmen team. “There was a need for the school, I’m excited, and we’re going to have fun and work extremely hard. But it was kind of a surprise.”
Was it ever. Christopher had to move fast after former coach Tim Pierleoni left to become the coach and athletic director at his alma mater Gilroy High in mid May.
“I never thought I would run a varsity program again,” said Yafai, who was the Gilroy High coach for seven years ending in 2006. “The process to find a new coach is extensive. You have to advertise for a while, conduct interviews, go through a hiring and clearance process. At that point it would be tough to find someone that was going to be able to teach consistency, keep the (remaining) coaches on staff and have the players remain excited. I think the school at that point based on the timeline came to me and said, ‘Look, we just don’t have time to put out a full search and find a head coach. Will you take over the program?’”
After discussing the situation with his wife, the 53-year-old Yafai agreed to take the job on a one-year interim term, with the possibility of going beyond a year if he and the administration are amenable to the situation.
“We’ll evaluate it after a year because if we have a chance to find someone young and energetic who is willing to take over the program for the long term, I’d be more than happy to be an assistant for them or go back to be a JV assistant, where I had a lot of fun coaching the game,” he said.
Yafai’s June hiring completed a rather exciting off-season for the city of Gilroy’s two public high school football teams. Before departing, Pierleoni was the only CHS coach in program history, taking over the team 12 years ago. Prior to becoming the Gilroy football coach, Yafai had a two-year stint as the school’s softball coach.
He left Gilroy after the 2006 season, went back to San Jose State to earn his Master’s degree in education and then got hired by Christopher as its athletic director when the school opened in August 2009.
In fact, Yafai was one of the first people to be hired at CHS, where he spent six years as the athletic director before returning to the classroom full time teaching world and U.S. history, where he remains in that role today. Pierleoni and Yafai go way back, as they were teammates on Chico State’s lacrosse team.
“He was a big brother and mentor to me,” Yafai said.
When Yafai landed the GHS coaching position, he had Pierleoni as one of his coordinators. Once Yafai became Christopher’s athletic director, he and the administration hired Pierleoni to become the Cougars’ football coach. It turned out to be a great move for both parties.
“If you would’ve asked me 12 years ago that 12 years from now would you be happy if he’s still your coach, I’d say heck yeah,” Yafai said. “It was obviously a great hire.”
CHS Principal Jeremy Dirks and athletic director Ryan Dequin were notably excited to have Yafai take over the program.
“His extensive resume in coaching, his passion for pursuing victory with honor, and the relationships he has built with the young athletes in the classroom and on the field, are only some of the attributes why we feel coach Yafai will be an excellent leader this next season,” Dequin said in a statement.
Yafai has the players in summer workouts, which consist of strength-training and speed and agility work. Basic football fundamentals are also emphasized, schemes are reviewed and tweaks and adjustments are made. The Cougars competed in a 7 on 7 passing league event at Branham on June 30, and Yafai liked what he saw.
“You not only can work on your passing game and defensive coverages, but it’s also a lot of fun,” said Yafai, whose team hosts Leland in a 7 on 7 on July 8 before taking part in a 7 on 7 tournament at Westmont High on July 17. “You increase the competition and you’re seeing coaches and players from other schools.”
Yafai has a long-term goal to get a higher participation turnout as the numbers in the program have steadily declined, emblematic of what’s happening throughout the country.
As recently as three years ago, Christopher had a freshmen team. But now they’re down to two squads and even then Yafai will be fortunate to get 38 players on the varsity team for the upcoming season.
“We’ve got to find a way to increase our numbers, and hopefully this happens for both schools,” he said. “The goal is to have two strong programs in the city of Gilroy. What an amazing feat that was when both schools won CCS titles on the same weekend (in 2017). That would be cool, not for one year, but consistently over the next decade. It would be great for both programs to be very strong, respected and winning ballgames.”