"Newsmaker of the Week" is presented by the SCV Press Club and Comcast, and produced by Susan Shapiro and Leon Worden. This week's edition is hosted by SCV Sportscaster David Caldwell. The half-hour program premieres every Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, repeating Sundays at 8:30 a.m.
This week's newsmaker is Chuck Lyon, head football coach at College of the Canyons. The following interview was conducted Jan. 29. Questions are paraphrased and answers may be abbreviated for length.
Signal: You had a fantastic year. You were undefeated until the semifinals. Things just clicked from the beginning.
Lyon: When I (saw) the schedule coming out of our league meeting last year, I (thought), my gosh, are you kidding me? This is a gauntlet we're going through. We had to play Pasadena, which was 10-1 the year before, and Palomar, which is (perennially a) great team. Bakersfield is now on the schedule, Moorpark comes back on the schedule, Hancock stays on the schedule, and I thought, Man alive.
I went back and said to the coaches, "Hey, we need to gear it up. We need to get better right now." So to see that schedule ahead of us, and then for our guys to do what they did on the field and our coaches to do what they did, it was a great experience.
Signal: Is that what set it up? Knowing you had to be ready for top-five Pasadena and Palomar?
Lyon: Another thing happened last year that is new: We lost our scrimmage because of the state budget cuts. They cut out our scrimmage against Long Beach City College, so basically we went into that Pasadena game not knowing. Of course everybody did (get the scrimmage cut); so did they. And it was on the road...
We had a good nucleus returning from a darned good team, a team that played for the state championship. I think that, more than anything else, really got us through that Pasadena game, and we played well in that game. Then Palomar came to our place, and going in, I (thought), if we can go 1-1 against these two, we'll be great. We go 0-2, we (could) still win this thing. To go 2-0 kind of set it off for our kids. They took off from there.
It's not easy, week in and week out, playing at a certain level and getting breaks I mean, I've been coaching 23 (or) 24 years. I've never been involved in an undefeated regular season. So it's a special thing to have that happen. It was great for our kids.
Signal: Mid-season, you're ranked No. 1 in the country. Did that change anything? Did that make the kids feel like they're the best and they're going to play that way because they already know it?
Lyon: Well, no. Our kids think they're the greatest all the time, so it's kind of the opposite for me.
For me it's, bring them back down to Earth. We've got to practice Monday through Friday because Saturday, it just doesn't happen on its own. And I'm a little bit that way anyway. I'm more of a day-to-day person. I want to do it every single day. I want to get better every day. If we're not getting better, or you're not getting better as an individual, we're probably not doing a real good job with you. So I try to ground them.
And that's a great honor, to be ranked No. 1 in the country. (It was the) first time again, another first for us. I didn't think there were a whole lot of firsts that this team could pull off, and they pulled off quite a few of them. So it was a great run.
Signal: In the six years since football returned to COC, you always seem to have a quarterback controversy at the start of the season who's going to be the guy? This year you had Jason Beck and Will Savage. Beck got the nod and ran with it.
Lyon: You never know how a player is going to react until it's (time to) turn on the lights and let's play. Especially at that position. And we're a two-year college, so every year it's new guys.
I really want to give guys an opportunity to see how they react under pressure. And we've been in a situation since the beginning, really, where we've had two guys that I've thought would be good enough to be the guy. Didn't know who the guy was. Beck transfers from Ventura, he had a mediocre freshman season. We gray-shirted Savage, great skills, tall kid, great arm (but) hadn't played for a year. We didn't know. So we told them, you're both going to play.
Now, Jason Beck just happens to be such a great competitor, he scholarships to BYU and I go, A BYU quarterback? Are you kidding me? But he's such a great competitor, he just wins. So that's what happened.
Signal: Everything went great through the rest of the season. Going into the playoffs you dominated against Palomar the second time around at COC. Then you went to Grossmont and ran into a defense you weren't expecting.
Lyon: They played well. And they pressured Jason more than I thought they would. We had offensive line problems in the second quarter. Our (all-American) center goes out, now we move our left tackle to center and ... that changes the game...
Jason was a little off. He wasn't as good as he's been. Big games. We've seen that the year before with Kyle (Bauer) in the state championship game. ... We didn't play well on offense. But we had a great damned defense.
Signal: You still had a chance in the fourth quarter. Did that move within the offensive line change the dynamic of running against that strong defense?
Lyon: Well, no, it doesn't change what we do. What ultimately happened on third and 2 is, we get a quarterback-center exchange problem. The ball goes on the ground, they recover the ball, we lose the game.
That's probably more coaching than anything else. That's probably our fault for not having enough (practice plays) with those two kids together. So that's the way it goes. That's the nature of the beast, especially in our sport.
But hey, c'mon. I walked away from that season going, that was a great year. That's a great experience for those kids, and it was a great banquet we had. It was fun.
Signal: You're approaching another record year in terms of the number of scholarships to four-year schools coming out of COC.
Lyon: I think we've got nine Division 1's right now and 11 or 12 scholarships overall right now.
Signal: In 2001 you had 14, tying a state record for a community college sending kids to Division 1 programs.
Signal: Let's talk about some of those kids. Jason Beck is going to BYU. Marcus Crawford, your running back?
Lyon: Marcus Crawford is going to Utah State with (defensive back) Kevin Jones. They both singed at Utah State. It's kind of funny the way they kind of paired up this year. We've got two at Utah State. As of right now, (defensive lineman) Domata Peko and our nose guard, Daniel Zynn, are both looking like Michigan State. (Offensive lineman Nick) Longshore and Beck are both at BYU. So six of our signees paired up, which is unusual. You don't see that, as a rule. (Kicker) Josh Cummings, I believe, is going to University of Pittsburgh.
Signal: Which is a change.
Lyon: Which is a change for him. He was talking about Reno, where (wide receiver) Trevor Brackett went. We have a guy there right now. He left at semester. Our center ended up at Charleston Southern (University). ... (Offensive lineman) Faitasi Lefiti ended up at Portland State, and we've got a few guys that still are unsigned that are being chased.
Signal: Should high school kids interpret this to mean, go to College of the Canyons and your chances for a Division 1 scholarship improve dramatically?
Lyon: I think a better way to put that would be, your opportunity for a four-year degree increases tremendously.
When you look at the number of guys that we put out, you've got to remember that they can't go without academics. And so we're doing the job in the classroom. Garett Tujague, our academic counselor; the whole structure of College of the Canyons we do a great job with pushing all of our athletes to go to school, get the grades, so that you're eligible to get these scholarships and move on.
So it's a two-sided issue. One, you have to have the academics, and two, you've got to be a good player, in whatever sport that is, and we're lucky enough to have both. We're doing a good job in both, I believe.
So those kids ... there's a multitude of reasons why they end up at college of the canons. It could be a grade issue; they didn't' concentrate, they didn't do a great job in high school. Not mature enough, is another reason; they just didn't want to do it at that point in time. I see that a lot. They weren't big enough at that point in high school to get that scholarship, and then they mature late. Some kids mature late. They become better athletes, they become bigger, faster, stronger. There's a ton of reasons why they end up with us, and then we do the best we can with them in the short time that we have them.
Signal: Jerrod Perry. That's an interesting story. He knew he was going to be your running back, and he turned out to be an all-state middle linebacker.
Lyon: Yes he was. Well, J.J. Arrington, our running back the two years before that, signs at Cal (Berkeley). Same high school. He goes home for Christmas (in North Carolina) and tells Jerrod, "I'm leaving. I'm going to Cal." Then Jerrod says, "Well, then I'm the next running back at College of the Canyons." His mother calls me a week before we start and says, "I'm sending my son to College of the Canyons." I said, "Ma'am, you don't want to do that. We start in a week, he's not in shape, you know there's a lot of things that go into a recruiting process." "No, he'll be there in a week." "OK," I said, "but we have running backs." We had Marcus (Crawford), and we had a couple other kids we really liked, and Bobby Stanley's back, Chris Diaz we had a bombshell.
So he shows up and I said I'd seen tape of him I said, "You're playing linebacker." And he said, "No, I'm not. I'm playing running back." I said, "Well, you can play linebacker or you can go home. (Those are) your two choices. That's the way it is." And we butted heads for a little while, and he learned that I'm going to win most of those. And he ends up being an all-state linebacker. A great player. And a great kid.
Signal: And he'll help form a nucleus for next season.
Lyon: Oh yeah. He will spearhead our defense. There's no doubt about that. He's a great player.
Signal: As you mentioned, a lot of the kids who come to COC have had grade issues and other challenges. Isn't it unusual for a community college to have an academic advisor for athletes, as you do?
Lyon: It's becoming more prevalent. In fact, I don't know how you can do without it. You have to have an advisor for your athletes. There (are) so many different rules, as you know, NCAA every division has (its) own rules 1, 1aa, 2, 3, NAIA, and then every conference has (its) own rules within (its) division. So unless you really understand what's going on, you're going to miss the boat.
Our administration, our school you know, I brought that to their attention in 1998 when I got there. I went into a meeting with (Counselor) Al Adelini, one of the all-stars at College of the Canyons for a long time when I played there he was one of my counselors and I said, "Al, who does your athletic academic work?" "We don't have anybody right now." I said, "We've got to do that." And the college got on it and they hired Garett (Tujague) full-time in 1999. So that happened.
Coach (Robert) dos Remedios our strength and conditioning coach for all sports is the only one in the state at this time that I know of. And you're going to see that more and more. That is a huge deal for us. He does a great job with all of our sports. Bigger, faster, stronger, and he does a great job with that. So you're seeing just a lot of great entities come together to be who we are.
My biggest role, as the head football coach, is an attitude coach. I want us to think alike and do things alike and present an image that the community is proud of present a product that the college and the community is proud of. That's really what I do as the head coach.
Signal: You average 1,000 to 1,200 in attendance, which is strong for community college football, but it doesn't approach a Friday night high school football crowd at your stadium. Why aren't people embracing community college football, especially if so many of your players are going on the major schools?
Lyon: There's a lot of reasons. I think the biggest reason is this: In order to go to a football game and watch a football game, you need to have some connection to the team.
Our high school athletics out here are awesome, bar none. You go to any sport and parents are involved. Parents are involved, grandmas and grandpas are involved, alumni are involved. I go to a Hart football game, there (are) guys who played there 50 years ago. They haven't missed a game in 20 years. So that's the way it is in that situation. And then to ask them to come back again on Saturday night with no real connection to the team is probably pretty tough.
We do have our fans, and then, year in and year out, the kids change. I'm sure (with) our local kids, their parents are there and their friends are there, and that's that 1,200 people you're looking at. But I've been in community college football a long time, and you just don't get a lot of people.
I think that's the biggest reason. There's no connection for them. It's great football. It's exciting.
Signal: As you mentioned, there's a lot of great high school football played here. And yet, in the last couple of years, your recruiting area has grown. It used to be only the schools in Santa Clarita where your coaching staff could make the first contact. But now you can draw from the Antelope Valley, San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Ventura County. Is that a benefit?
Lyon: Ha! It's huge. (COC Superintendent-President) Dianne Van Hook was the spearhead of that at the state level. She was the one who went in and said this is ridiculous. We have high schools five minutes on the freeway, and Sylmar is at College of the Canyons. And kids are more mobile these days. They move around and go wherever they want to go, based on whatever they want to do. If a certain academic program is stronger at our place, they're not afraid to drive.
And it eliminated a lot of the problems. A lot of the coaches calling (and complaining), "You're in my district. What are you doing over here? Did he make first contact?" That's not all been eliminated. We can make first contact in any of those districts you mentioned, and it's good for everybody, I believe.
I believe a kid should go where he wants to go. A student athlete should be able to attend where he wants to, for whatever reason. So we've been fortunate. We do real well in Ventura County, we do real well in the San Fernando Valley, we do real well in the Antelope Valley, and we get our normal eight to 10 guys out of the Santa Clarita Valley every year (who) come play for us.
Signal: There will always be people who say sports at COC should focus on SCV schools. Is that even conceivable?
Lyon: In my mind, no. If you told me that I have to play against the people I'm playing with, with our four high schools, they're getting hurt. That's not fun. We could not compete with our four high schools only. It just couldn't be done.
I'm not sure we could even field a team with our four. Because, kids have that high school experience and they want to do something else. They don't all want to play football.
It's a tough sport, especially the higher you go, the tougher it gets. So I'm not sure we'd field a team. I know we wouldn't get 50 or 60. So it's not doable. We need help. And I think, by bringing in those kids from wherever, to supplement our kids, I think our kids have a better chance to move on because they have people around them who are good players and they're learning a lot.
Signal: You were ranked No. 1 by JC Gridwire, after being in the top five for most of the season. How much has the national exposure improved the makeup of this football team?
Lyon: Well, it helps somewhat. I'm very selective on who we'll bring in. And we get, oh my gosh, I don't know how many calls we get a day from all over the country. And you're right. We've been top-5 in the country three years in a row. We've had 40 wins in four seasons. People are going all over the country, we're scholarshipping everywhere. These kids know that. The high school community kids are well educated, coast to coast. They understand what opportunities are out there.
We don't take maybe 10 percent of the kids (who) contact us, from all over. Because we can't. One of my philosophies as a head coach is, small numbers with cohesiveness and getting (practice plays). Now you'd think this is a lie, but we start with under 100. That's my goal. You go down to Mount Sac, they start with 140. It's not uncommon for teams to have 120, 130, 140 guys to start a season, where I feel like that's an unmanageable number and I want to start with under 100. I'd like to start with around 90. We'll end up with around 60. That means you have to be better at evaluating talent and character and, will they go to school?
You've got to evaluate the total person. And hopefully you make the right choices.
Signal: College athletics have changed dramatically in the last 20 years. It used to be, football players would spend four years in college and maybe they had enough credits to be a sophomore. Now there is more emphasis on education.
Signal: Should parents of young athletes who are now in the 6th, 7th, 8th grade, start promoting good academics now, as well as good athletics?
Lyon: My feeling on that? When my children were born, they had a bed and a desk. And that's the truth. They had a desk growing up, that they sit at and they do homework at, in kindergarten, and right on through. They know no different. That's the way they're supposed to do it. So I don't think you ever start too young teaching them the skills and the work ethic of doing homework.
Signal: If they haven't got the grades squared away by the time they're a junior or senior in high school, it might be too late.
Lyon: That's true. That is absolutely true.
Signal: What do you tell those parents? What do you tell those kids?
Lyon: What I tell the kids is, watch. Because when you come into my program as a freshman, you're going to see guys taking trips to all over the country to get scholarshipped. How are they doing that? Well, they're pretty good on the football field ... now look at the transcript. Because you have to do both.
I call it, "your leaf is turning green." Sometimes they never get it. They never get it, and they don't make it. Other kids, they go, "Oh, coach, how do I do that? How can I be that guy? How can I be Delmatoff? How can I be Daniel Zynn? How can I be J.J. Arrington?" "Well, here's how you do it."
So they start getting involved and they understand that without it, they can't go on. I mean, that's just a fact. If you don't have a transcript worthy of transfer, you're not going on.
It's amazing. In 22 years I've seen it all. I've seen kids turn it in the last semester of their last year, go on, graduate, master's degrees you'd be amazed.
I was one of those guys. Who are you kidding? When I left high school, I'd never have thought I would graduate college and then to have a master's degree. I said, you're crazy. So I'm a product of that environment, that situation.
Signal: Your son, Tyler, is going to become part of a controversy. He's a sophomore in high school right now, but the controversy is, will it be Tyler Lyon at quarterback at Hart High School next year as a junior, or will it go to Robbie Moore as a senior? What is your perspective as a father?
Lyon: It's no different than as a coach. I would not separate that. The best player should play.
If Tyler was on my team, he'd better be the best or he's not playing. He knows that. Because I coached him in Little League growing up. "Son, either you produce or you go sit over there and you'll play your two innings, and I love you to death." But that's up to the Hart coaches to decide. Tyler's self image does not rest on whether he starts at quarterback as a junior.
He's a baseball player right now. He's playing on the varsity baseball team. He's very good at baseball. We don't, again, it's not a winning-losing issue. Moores are a great family. Matt works out with us. Robbie works out with us in the summer. They come over and throw with us, throw with (COC Coach) Dean (Herrington). And so does Tyler. I would tell (Hart Coach) Davis Delmatoff or (Head Coach) Mike Herrington, "Hey, you've got to win games," and they do a great job.
One of the reasons he's there is because they do a great job of evaluating talent and getting kids better. If my kid is not the guy, that's fine with me. It really is. And if he's not even a football player, that's fine with me, too. Maybe he's a great baseball player. Who knows? Maybe he's not either one of those?
He's a good student, I know that four A's and two B's. That desk at home, that's the answer. We don't talk about it much, we really don't.
Signal: What's the outlook for COC football next year?
Lyon: We're going to be pretty good. I mean, offensively, I think we're going to be real good. We've had some kids transfer in (who) are going to be good players. Defensively, we have a chance to be you know, when I say good, I don't mean wins-and-loss record.
The kids right now? This is one of the hardest working groups. We've had them a week. It's unbelievable, the work ethic of this group. That's my barometer for what's happening.
So I'll tell you, it's going to be a fun team to watch. You're going to enjoy next season's team. They're going to play hard.
See this interview in its entirety today at 8:30 a.m., and watch for another "Newsmaker of the Week" on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on SCVTV Channel 20, available to Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.