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Mailbag leftover: The best football coach in history of each local high school

Ernie Howren
Ernie Howren is the best coach in Reed High history and could make a run as the best coach in Manogue High history given time. (KRNV file)

On occasion, a Monday Mailbag question warrants its own headline and a complete story dedicated to itself, which we call a "Mailbag leftover." I got such a question this week from reader Pablo Nava-Duran, who asked me to list the top football coaches for every Northern Nevada school in the 5A and 3A classifications. Here we go.

5A

Bishop Manogue (Chris Ault): The Miners' 13 state titles are the second most for any local team behind Reno's 19. Five of those came in the 1970s. Two of them were won by Chris Ault, who led the Miners to back-to-back titles in 1970 and 1971 before he accepted the head job at Reno High. Ault was only 24 years old when he won his first state title at Bishop Manogue. He went 26-2-1 at Manogue, posting back-to-back 10-0 seasons before going to Reno High, where he went 9-1 in his lone season before leaving for UNLV to be an assistant coach. He was hired as Nevada's head coach in 1976, and the rest is history as Ault piled up 233 career wins over 28 seasons and earned his way into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Carson (Blair Roman): Carson has won four state titles, although one came in the 1920s, two in the 1950s and one in the 1960s, so no recent state titles, but we'll still pick the Senators' current head coach, Blair Roman, as the top coach in school history. Coaching football is in the blood as Blair's father, Keith, was a long-time Douglas football/basketball/baseball coach (the Tigers' field is named after him). Blair has been at Carson since 2008, making him the longest consecutively tenured coach at one school in Northern Nevada's large-class division. Blair's Senators won league titles in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015 and is 77-54 all-time with at Carson, although his program hasn't had a winning record since 2015.

Damonte Ranch (Shawn Dupris): Despite being in Reno for a relatively short time, Dupris could already be considered one of the top-10 high school football coaches in local history. He went 23-28 at Las Vegas' Bonanza High, transforming the Bengals into a tip-tier program over time, before being hired by Damonte Ranch in 2012. In eight seasons, Dupris is 68-30 with double-digit win totals in each of the last four seasons, a period in which the Mustangs have gone 47-6 and established itself as an elite program in the North. Damonte Ranch has won four straight Sierra League titles under Dupris and hasn't lost a league game since 2015. Dupris has one Northern 4A Regional title to his name, that coming in 2016.

Douglas (Mike Rippee): The name "Rippee" was synonymous with Douglas for nearly three decades as he ran the Tigers' program from 1985-2012 (he really wanted the Yerington job where he was a star running back before playing for the Wolf Pack, but that position didn't come open, so he took the Douglas gig). Rippee's Tigers didn't have a lot of postseason success, never having won a Regional title, but his teams were a formidable foe. Rippee posted a 139-125 record, which was a more impressive 100-70 over his last 16 seasons after he got things up and running. Those 139 wins rank tied for sixth among Northern Nevada coaches, and Rippee was inducted into the NIAA Hall of Fame in 2014.

Galena (Steve Struzyk): Galena High opened in 1992 and doesn't have a long history of football success, although it did have a good run in the mid-to-late 2000s. The Grizzlies' only large-class Regional title came in 2006 under Steve Struzyk, who was Galena's head coach for 15 seasons. Galena was runner-up at state in 2006, losing in the championship game to Las Vegas, a 33-6 defeat. Struzyk led Galena to three regional championship games in four seasons from 2006-09 and compiled a 113-83 record before stepping down after the 2017 season. He led Galena to the postseason eight times and is far and away the most successful football coach in the Grizzlies' history.

McQueen (Ken Dalton): Well, this is an easy one considering I recently said Dalton was the best high school coach in Northern Nevada history. Dalton won 308 games in his coaching career, including 228 at McQueen where he started the program in 1982 and coached the Lancers until 2008. He led McQueen to 11 Regional titles and six state championships (1990, 1992, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2008), including five that were perfect seasons. His 1992, 2000, 2002 and 2008 teams were all-time greats and Dalton sent four players to the NFL, the most of any local coach (Chris Carr, Jeff Rowe, Kyle Van Noy and Clint Stitser). His program was the standard in Northern Nevada for two decades, taking over for Joe Sellers' Wooster teams.

Reed (Ernie Howren): He's no longer the coach at Reed, but Ernie Howren left a lasting legacy with the Raiders before taking the Bishop Manogue job in 2017 (and he's done a great job with the Miners, including back-to-back Regional titles the last two seasons). Howren inherited a rebuild at Reed and quickly turned the team into the North's model program, taking over that title from McQueen High. During his 16 seasons at Reed, Howren went 146-54 and won seven Regional titles in his final 13 seasons with the program, including five straight from 2011-15. The only thing lacking from his résumé at Reed was a state championship, although he certainly would have won a couple in a non-Bishop Gorman world.

Reno (Herb Foster): Considering we had three Reno High coaches on our list of top-10 high school football coaches in Northern Nevada history, this isn't an easy one. But we'll give the slight edge to Herb Foster over Dick Trachok and Dan Avansino. After all, the field at Reno High is named after Foster. Coaching Reno High from 1923-48, Foster led the Huskies to 119 victories and nine state titles, including five in a row from 1924-28, the second most in the large-class division behind Tony Sanchez's six straight at Bishop Gorman from 2009-14. Foster's nine large-class state football titles are the most for any coach in the Silver State, and he added six state basketball titles and three state track and field titles for good measure.

Spanish Springs (Scott Hare): Spanish Springs is one of three large-class high schools to open in the 2000s, and it ranks in the middle in terms of football success (above North Valleys High but behind Damonte Ranch High). Both Eric Borja and Rob Hummel have led Spanish Springs to High Desert League titles the last two seasons and deserve a mention, but we'll go with Scott Hare, who led the program for eight seasons and made it competitive after getting a rebuild and going 0-10 in his first season in 2006. Hare was 37-36 thereafter before leaving for a job in Arizona after the 2012 season where he's had success at Mesa High and Mesquite High. Given some time, I think Hummel will eventually earn this distinction.

3A

Churchill County (Tony Klenakis Sr.): While we should mention current coach Brooke Hill, who has led Fallon to two state titles, we'll give the nod to Tony Klenakis Sr., who won three state titles with the Greenwave from 1976-78, including an undefeated season in 1976 before Fallon upset Yerington in back-to-back title game in 1977 and 1978. Klenakis was Churchill County's coach from 1966-79 and went 77-49-7, including a 20-game overall win streak from 1975-77 and a 23-game league win streak from 1975-78.

Dayton (Rick Walker): Dayton has fallen on hard times of late, going 1-39 from 2015-18 before having to cancel its 2019 season as it attempted to drop to the 2A in football, a move that wasn't approved by the NIAA. But the program was fairly strong prior to that, with Rick Walker coaching the Dust Devils to some success during his nine-year tenure (from 2002-10). Walker went 47-44 at Dayton, including back-to-back 3A state semifinals appearances in 2005 and 2006. Dayton's decline since he stepped down has been even more telling.

Elko (Bob Milligan): While current coach Luke Sellers has had a nice run, going 64-37 since taking over in 2010, we'll go back to Elko's Bob Milligan era. During his 13-year run as a head coach in the 1990s, Elko played in the large-class division rather than its current 3A distinction, and was a formidable foe. His teams went 92-42 and he coached several players to FBS football. His 1998 team made it to the state finals, losing to Cimarron-Memorial, and he was the large-class coach of the year in 1993 and 1998.

Fernley (Dave Hart): Dave Hart was controversially forced out after the 2004 season, but he had an excellent 24-year run at Fernley where he won 113 games, making him one of 11 Northern coaches to hit triple-digits. Coaching the Vaqueros from 1981-2004, Hart never won state (the Vaqueros snapped a 55-year state-title drought in 2019), but his longevity was admirable.

Hug (Rollins Stallworth): The former Nevada player did amazing things at Hug, a school that typically struggles with numbers (and with wins, which we've seen since his retirement after the 2009 season). From 1993-2009, Rollins Stallworth ran one of the North's top programs, which included a 4A state title game berth in 2005. Hug's field is named after him.

Lowry (Tim Billingsley): Billingsley had two runs at Lowry, including an eight-year campaign from 2007-14. The tenure had a rough first year (0-10), but the Buckaroos were strong in thereafter as Billingsley went 53-25 from 2008-14 and led Lowry to four straight state playoff appearances from 2010-13. Lowry is still in search of its first state championship.

North Valleys (Jason Ehlen): North Valleys opened in 2001 and has had only three winnings seasons in football since then, so this is no easy job. Two of those winning seasons came under Jason Ehlen, who led the Panthers to back-to-back 7-4 seasons in 2006 and 2007 before going 7-13 from 2008-09. Ehlen was named Reno High's head coach for the 2020 season.

South Tahoe (Tim Jaureguito): South Tahoe won back-to-back 2A state titles in 1960 and 1961, but we will instead go with Tim Jaureguito, who served as the Vikings' head coach from 1987-2000 (with the exception of 1994 when he took a one-year hiatus). South Tahoe competed in the large-class division during Jaureguito's run and was 68-57 in his 13 seasons, which included eight playoff berths and a state runner-up finish in 1991 when the Vikings lost to Eldorado. South Tahoe went 10-2 that season and won the large-class Northern region.

Sparks (Edwin Whitehead): Rob Kittrell was Sparks' coach for nearly 20 years and deserves a mention, but Edwin "Tip" Whitehead deserves the nod here for the powerhouse teams he built in the 1940s, including leading the Railroaders to the only state football title in school history in 1948. The Sparks High athletic complex is named after Whitehead, a Goldfield native and former Wolf Pack star who began his teaching and coaching career at Fernley High before his 11-year run coaching football, basketball and track and field at Sparks.

Spring Creek (Joel Jund): Unlike many of the schools on this list, Spring Creek has never played in the large-class division since opening in 1993. Joel Jund has been the Spartans' head coach in 18 of its 27 seasons and and was an assistant coach for the 1997 state title-winning team. He stepped down after the 2017 season. Jund led Spring Creek to the four-team state playoffs eight times in 18 seasons with two state title game berths, both losses.

Truckee (Bob Shaffer): Bob Shaffer built a powerhouse at Truckee, which technically is in California but plays in the NIAA given its proximity to the border. Coaching the Wolverines from 1995-2012, Shaffer won 170 games (fifth most in state history), including 41 in a row from 2009-12 before retiring. He won nine 3A state titles, including four in a row from 2009-12

Wooster (Joe Sellers): We're putting teams in their current classification, which for Wooster is the 3A, but the Colts were the predominant large-class football power in the 1980s under Joe Sellers, who won seven state titles at Wooster (and two more at Bishop Manogue). Sellers went a ridiculous 206-34 at Wooster, including a 36-game win streak from 1985-87 during which his team won three straight state championships. Wooster's titles under Sellers came in 1981, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989 and 1994. Combined with his time at Bishop Manogue, Sellers won a state-record 250 games in Nevada and was inducted into the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2003.

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