By STEVE FRYER STAFF WRITER OCRegister
Valencia's Marrujo a winner to the very end. 284-131-6. Valencia was 1-9 in 2011. The school’s football team had been so good for so long. Maybe 1-9 was an indication that the good times were over. Tigers coach Mike Marrujo did not think so. Marrujo hung in there. He returned the program to respectability, and beyond. Valencia went 11-1 in 2015 and won another Empire League championship with a 5-0 league record.
For such a fine turnaround and outstanding season, Marrujo is the Register’s Orange County football coach of the year. The season and award capped a great career. Marrujo, 64, announced this month his retirement from coaching. He was Valencia’s coach for 35 years. His coaching career and 2015 season ended with a loss to Villa Park in the second round of the CIF-SS Southwest Division playoffs. Going into that game, the Tigers were 11-0 for only the third time in school history.
Marrujo has seen much success at Valencia. His record at the school was 284-131-6. Marrujo’s teams won three Southern Section championships and 15 league championships. Only John Barnes, who is retiring at Los Alamitos, Mission Viejo’s Bob Johnson and Mater Dei’s Bruce Rollinson have more league titles in Orange County football.
This year’s league championship was one of the more satisfying ones for Marrujo. Before the season opener, he was confident the Tigers had talent in some areas. He wasn’t quite so sure about a couple of other units. “We knew we had the skill guys,” Marrujo said. “But we didn’t know about the offensive line. We had one big guy coming back. but he got hurt early in the season. So we were left there with one senior, three juniors and a sophomore starting for us.
“We figured if they played reasonably well, we’d be OK. And they did.” Valencia’s defense also came through. “We were confident that we’d be pretty good there,” Marrujo said. “But not as good as the defense turned out to be.” Marrujo handed defensive coordinator responsibilities to Shawn Racobs, El Dorado’s head coach some years ago and who recently had been an assistant coach at Santa Ana College.
“Shawn did some things with our defense that he’d been doing over at SAC,” Marrujo said. “He got more juice out of the kids on defense. That unit played really well.” Valencia allowed only 10 points a game. The Tigers recorded back-to-back shutouts in October against Laguna Hills and Kennedy. Both of those opponents qualified for the Southwest Division playoffs.
The Tigers scored 36 points a game. They did not score fewer than 24 points in a game until the 28-15 loss to Villa Park on Nov. 20. Six of the Valencia’s 10 regular-season wins were against teams that went on to qualify for the playoffs. The Tigers got off to a roaring start with a 41-7 win at Yorba Linda. Then came wins of 34-7 over Brea Olinda and 35-2 over El Dorado, and Valencia was on its way to a succesful season.
Racobs was named Marrujo’s replacement shortly after Marrujo announced his retirement. Marrujo hoped that would occur. Marrujo said he was fortunate to have excellent assistant coaches on his staff during his long tenure. Of the many, Marrujo singled out Curt Pike, who has with Marrujo since the 1980s.
“He was one of my student-teachers in my first or second year of teaching, too,” Marrujo said. Marrujo said he will miss the camaraderie and game-planning with Valencia coaches. He will miss, too, the challenges brought by opposing coaches of whom he has some favorites, such as Loara coach Mitch Olson, who years ago coached Kennedy in many great games against Valencia.
“We had some battles,” Marrujo said. “He was always a lot of fun. In the ’80s, when I was just starting, there were some great games against ‘Moon’ Mullen when he was at Anaheim. And I always liked Myron Miller at Tustin, just a very classy guy.” The hours required to run a high school football program continue to increase. Coaching began to physically wear down Marrujo. He figured this would be a good time to move along.
“It’s been 35 years,” he said. “If not now, when?” Marrujo goes out on top. The view is familiar.