By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
When Dan Navarro walked off the field last fall following a first-round loss to Wilcox in the Central Coast Section football playoffs, he knew two things in his life were certain -- his 32-year teaching career at Mountain View High would be over at the end of the 2011 school year but his football coaching career wasn't.
"I'm retiring in June," Navarro said, "but I still like coaching. Some people play golf for a hobby. I'm fortunate that my hobby is coaching."
When Navarro leaves Mountain View High in June, he won't have to go far to continue his 37-year coaching career. Last week, Navarro accepted a job as the new head football coach at Gunn High.
"I applied for the job and they hired me," said Navarro.
"I think Dan is a great find!" said Gunn Athletic Director Chris Horpel. "He just happened to be available when we were in the market for a new head varsity football coach. I think he will bring a lot of structure, accountability and success to our program. He has done this everywhere he has coached and he has a lot of experience doing just that. He has a great system of mentoring athletes and coaches alike and our football program needs this.
Navarro, 60, will replace Bob Sykes, who suffered through a 3-7 record (0-6 in the SCVAL De Anza Division) last season. Gunn will play in the lower SCVAL El Camino Division this fall.
Navarro coached Mountain View to an 8-2 overall mark this past season, 5-1 in the El Camino Division. Because of that finish, the Spartans replaced Gunn in the De Anza Division.
"I didn't think I was going to be a head coach again," Navarro said. Nor did he expect something to open up so quickly and so close to home or in the same league.
"I'm thrilled to coach at Gunn," he said. "I like to build programs."
Gunn has qualified for the CCS playoffs only three times since they began in 1972, the last time coming in 2009. The Titans have advanced past the first round only once, in 2002. Clearly, Navarro has a challenge in front of him.
"Dan believes in doing things the 'proper way,' from behavior on the field to learning how to tackle correctly to being at practice every day," Horpel said. "I look forward to working with Coach Navarro as he leads us to a very successful and competitive program. It's a good day for Gunn Athletics!"
Navarro saw Gunn's new football facility for the first time on Tuesday morning. He showed up at 6:02 a.m. to watch his future players weight train as part of spring practice.
"I like being around the players," he said. "I figured that if they can put in that dedication, then I can be there, too."
Navarro was scheduled to meet with Gunn officials on Tuesday, including Principal Katya Villalobos. He also hopes to meet with all the football players' parents, as well.
"I just want to let them know where I'm at, and what my philosophy is," Navarro explained. "I hope to bring a great work ethic, organization and knowledge to the program, and develop some consistency."
Navarro played football at Mountain View High, graduating in 1968. He began his coaching career in 1975 with the Mountain View Pop Warner program and took over the varsity football program at the old Mountain View High in 1977. From 1988-90, one of his assistant coaches was Earl Hansen, who guided Palo Alto to its first-ever state championship in football last fall.
"We're still good friends," Navarro said of Hansen. "We talk to each other once a week during the season, just not before we play each other."
Navarro and Hansen probably won't be chatting with each other during the third week of September. That's when Palo Alto visits Gunn (on Sept. 23) for their annual meeting.
"It's good for the league," Hansen said of having Navarro back. "He knows what he's doing. It's going to be good for him over there. He'll do fine. He's an excellent coach."
Navarro's move to Gunn will offer him an opportunity that he hasn't experienced before.
"I've never had a school with lights," said Navarro. "We've always played day games at Mountain View (and at Lynbrook, where he coached from 1993-95). It will be nice to play under the lights at home."