2023 High School Football

PODCAST: Scurran on 25th anniversary of Sabino’s state title team & twilight of career

Jeff Scurran is carried on the shoulders of two of his Sabino linemen after the Sabercats won the 1998 4A state title over Agua Fria at Arizona State (Xavier Gallegos/Tucson Citizen photo)

Jeff Scurran has coached in 473 games in his career as head coach and many more as an assistant dating to when he started leading a middle school program in Georgia after finishing work as a graduate assistant at Florida under Ray Graves.

One of those games — the 1998 state championship earned at Sabino — will be celebrated Friday during halftime of the No. 2 Canyon del Oro vs. No. 1 Yuma Catholic Class 4A championship game at Arizona State’s Mountain America Stadium.

Scurran said in a podcast interview with AllSportsTucson.com this week that some of his “kids” (former players) will be in attendance along with his entire coaching staff, unfortunately except for Joe Abney, who coached Sabino’s junior varsity program along with being on Scurran’s staff. He passed away in 2018.


Veteran coach Jeff Scurran recently completed his 39th year overall as a head coach, 26th at a Southern Arizona high school and second year at Rio Rico. His career started in 1970 at a middle school in Atlanta. Researched by AllSportsTucson.com.
1970-71Atlanta (GA) Moreland School20-0
1978Tahoe-Truckee (CA) HS3-5-1
1981Dalles (OR) Wahtonka HS9-2
1982-83Portland (OR) West Linn HS9-10
1984-86CDO HS28-10
1988-99Sabino HS127-27-1
2001-04Pima CC26-17
2007-09Santa Rita HS34-7
2012Guelfi Firenze (Italy)10-2
2013-18Catalina Foothills HS44-23
2019Allgau Comets (Germany)1-5
2021Stuttgart Scorpions (Germany)0-2
2022-23Rio Rico HS8-12
26th yearSouthern AZ HS241-79-1
30th yearAll HS262-96-2
39th yearAll stops319-122-2

Among those on that coaching staff that year who will be at Mountain America include wide receivers coach Jay Campos (who went on to coach the Sabercats to four championship games), offensive line coach Paul Tofflemire (former Arizona standout), defensive backs coach Doug Holland (who replaced Scurran as head coach in 2000), as well as Bruce Williams, David Singer and Jeff Brown.

“Just having my coaching family back together, that to me, that’s worth the whole thing,” Scurran said. “Forget the award we’re getting … I’m getting my coaching family back together, and I’m gonna be able to see a bunch of the kids I love like family.”

Fifteen of the players on the 1998 team were honored as all-region first or second team members as well as honorable mention by the Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Citizen:

Santos Olague, running back, senior
Joe Price, offensive lineman, senior
Jeff Drumm, defensive lineman, junior
Collin Blackburn, linebacker, senior
Quinn Gooch, defensive back/kicker, junior
Zack Cesarsz, wide receiver, senior
Miles Mason, wide receiver, senior
Josh Kimberling, offensive/defensive tackle, senior
Joe Price, center, senior
Chris Conroy, defensive end/tight end, senior
Aaron Huertas, linebacker, junior
Kevin Amidan, defensive/offensive tackle, junior (who is now the school’s principal)
Blake Kinart, quarterback, junior
Jovan Vercel, cornerback, junior
Richard Hill, running back, junior

Scurran described his team as “scrappy little Sabino” to the media back then.

He mentioned in the podcast interview the Sabercats “did not pass the eyeball test … (only) Collin Blackburn passed the eyeball test, our middle linebacker and fullback.”

Despite the disparity in size between Sabino and Agua Fria, the Sabercats’ defense rose to the occasion and the offense grinded out yards on the ground without throwing a pass in the second half.

Sabino rushed for 287 of its 336 yards of total offense, led by Olague’s 112 yards rushing on 29 carries.

Agua Fria was held to 152 yards rushing, less than half of what the Owls averaged that season. Their top rusher (Robert Ramirez) had 1,936 rushing yards entering that game but finished with only 55 yards on 16 carries against the Sabercats.

“Our kids brought it, and part of the reason they brought it is they were conditioned for that from their freshman year all the way up,” said Scurran. “Listen, I don’t care if they win or lose as freshmen or in JV. Obviously, it’d be nice if they won but that brings in problems. I’m not teaching you to win football games. I’m teaching you to win in life.

“Along the way, if we get this, we’re gonna win a bunch of football games. See, if you can approach it from that standpoint, and demonstrate it on a day-by-day basis, and be on top of them for their behavior, their grades and their class … let’s face it, their class in public, because that wins over a lot of people too, right?

“You’re winning football games and you’re gaining confidence, but what you’re doing is you’re making a life for yourself in the future. You’re going to be a better parent. You’re going to be a better husband. You’re going to be a better employee. You’re going to be a better independent thinker in life, by learning how to do this process. That’s what we were able to do.”

Similar to Arizona coach Jedd Fisch, Scurran never played college football at Florida but earned a degree (journalism and communications) at the school before embarking on a successful coaching career.

Scurran has an overall coaching record of 319-152-2, including stints at CDO, Sabino, Catalina Foothills and Rio Rico in Southern Arizona, as well at Pima College and pro teams in Italy and Germany.

His three state championships at Sabino in 1990, 1992 and 1998 are the most accumulated by a coach at a Tucson school.

He took over moribund programs at CDO, Sabino, Santa Rita and two high school teams in Oregon and made them all playoff-caliber programs.

He led Pima Community College from scratch in 2001 to earning a trip to the 2004 Pilgrim’s Pride Bowl Classic and defeating No. 2-ranked Kilgore (Texas) College, 10-7, in a game at Mount Pleasant, Texas.

Pima finished the season with a 9-3 record and was ranked 13th in the country.

“USA Today tells me I’m the only coach they’ve been able to research to have three different 0-10 teams that went to the playoffs in their first year,” Scurran said. “I tell them I’m the craziest guy you know who would take over three 0-10 teams.

“I wish there was a magic formula that I can tell you about but it’s a combination of grinding, hard work (and) it’s a combination of getting the right people in the right places, surrounding yourself with the right people.”

Rio Rico had only one winning season in its 25 years of existence when Scurran took over the program in 2022.

The Hawks were 0-8 the previous year, including a 16-0 loss to rival Nogales. The Apaches owned the series, winning the first 13 meetings before Scurran’s arrival.

Rico Rico has won its last two games against Nogales under Scurran, shutting out the Apaches in both games. Rio Rico won 10-0 in the game at home last year and 39-0 at Nogales this season.

Scurran, who is 8-12 after his first two seasons with the Hawks, is contemplating whether to continue his coaching career or spend more time with his grandchildren and his wife of 53 years, Joan.

He may have coached his last game.

He could return to Rio Rico to continue the Hawks’ turnaround.

“Who knows what will happen and where I’ll be,” Scurran said. “There is a side of me that says, ‘You know, maybe it’s time to be a grandpa, maybe it’s time to spend more time with my wife,’ but I’m going to tell you directly what my wife and family tell me every day:

“‘Okay, dad, if you retire, what are you gonna do?’ What kids are you gonna help? What are you going to do all day long instead of helping kids?'”


1982: Wahtonka High School, Oregon.
From 0-18 to the state semifinals in his only year at the school (9-2).

1984: Canyon del Oro
The Dorados went 3-7 in 1982 and Scurran took them to eight wins, including a playoff win, in 1985.

1988: Sabino
Took a 2-8 team to 12-1 in two years and a state championship in 1990.

2001: Pima College
Starting from scratch, Scurran won 26 games in four years and beat the top-ranked team in the nation before returning to the high school level.

2007: Santa Rita
Took an 0-10 team to 11-2 in his first year and a state championship appearance in 2008.

2013: Catalina Foothills.
Took an 0-10 squad to eight wins in his first year and a state championship appearance in 2016.


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator in 2016 and is presently a special education teacher at Sunnyside High School in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
To Top