Maricopa Rams head football coach and district athletic director Cory Nenaber is set to leave the school at the end of the school year and take the head coaching job at his alma mater, Tempe Corona Del Sol.
Corona athletic director Dan Nero couldn’t confirm the hiring as of Wednesday afternoon, but did say Nenaber was one of the candidates the school had brought in for an interview on Monday. Sources tell the Monitor that Nenaber, who was widely considered a top target for the school following the in-season dismissal of Tom Joseph, was offered the job shortly after his interview.
Nenaber was the longest-tenured football coach in nearly two decades at Maricopa High, coaching the team for four seasons and presiding over the district’s athletics program (including at the two MUSD middle schools) for the past two years.
He returned to Maricopa to the state playoffs for the first time in five years last season and guided the team to a 5-5 record this year (3-2 in Division III, Section 5), despite having a number of younger players at some key skill positions. Each one of the losses Maricopa sustained was to a playoff team – the combined regular season record of those teams was 44-6.
Nenaber spent the day Wednesday informing players and program supporters of his decision to leave.
Senior lineman Christian Palafox, who played three years on varsity under Nenaber, told the Monitor in an email Wednesday night that Nenaber’s influence on his players went far beyond making them better athletes.
“The lessons he taught us go beyond the football field, but they make us better young men,” Palafox wrote. “He always said that he was trying to build not just football players, but men of great character and moral integrity. Coach Nenaber changed Maricopa from ‘Old Maricopa,’ which was undisciplined and unorganized, into ‘New Maricopa’, which was disciplined, physical, and played with relentless effort.
“I wouldn’t be the young man I am today if it weren’t for his influence.”
Former MHS running back Randel Barber, now the starting running back at Minot State (N.D.) University, thanked his former coach for helping him to get where he is now.
“(We) were on the same page when it came to getting better and he helped me get better in the classroom, (which) is the reason why I’m where I’m at now,” Barber said via email.
Maricopa Unified superintendent Steve Chestnut said finding someone like Nenaber – who served as both the football coach and athletic director – would be a tall task.
“Cory’s very talented and that’s what made him so attractive to Corona,” Chestnut said of the school where Nenaber both played and served as an assistant for seven years. “He created a very positive culture here. He had a well-disciplined team, and that came from teaching those kids those life lessons.”
Chestnut said Nenaber created an expectation among his fellow MHS coaches that becoming ingrained in the community was critical to achieving success. He was plugged into both the youth football league, as well as overseeing the athletic programs of the two MUSD middle schools.
In his four seasons at Maricopa, Nenaber compiled a 19-22 record. That mark gives him the best overall record of any head football coach at Maricopa High in the past 20 years.
The past two seasons, in particular, were special for the Rams, as it was the first time in that same 20-year span the school had back-to-back non-losing seasons.
A key part of those teams the last season has been wide receiver and free safety Adam Kochheiser, who also announced this week he is leaving the school. Kochheiser was projected as one of the top returning players for the Rams next season, having seen significant time on both sides of the ball and leading the team in tackles last season.
Kochheiser’s family moved recently to Gilbert and so he will attend school there beginning next semester rather than continuing to make the commute down to Maricopa.
As for plans on how to move the program forward, Chestnut said the district would seek applicants for both the head coaching position and the athletic director spot, with the decision whether to hire one person for those jobs dependent upon the candidates that apply. He was committed, he said, to getting the process going sooner rather than later.
“You get better applicants the earlier you look,” he said.
Chestnut said he was happy for Nenaber in his upcoming position, but warned that the district would look to build upon what he accomplished to use it against him in the future.
“Our 10-year goal is to be the type of Division I program that beats Corona,” he said.