Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
New Madera Coyote football head coach Kenny Paolinelli speaks to the crowd during an announcement ceremony Thursday at the Madera High School cafeteria.
When Kenny Paolinelli graduated from Madera High School, like all athletes with big dreams, he thought he would be playing in the National Football League.
When those dreams fizzled out, Paolinelli found himself right back home. Now he has picked up another dream job — head coach for the Madera Coyotes football team.
“I’m elated, obviously. I can’t wipe the smile off my face,” he said after an ceremony was held Thursday to announce his hiring. “I’m super excited. Seeing the support tonight was really cool to see. It makes you feel really welcome and excited about what is going on.”
“It’s exciting,” MHS athletics director John Fernandez said. “ It rekindles memories and, for me, having a Maderan running the program is special. We’re ecstatic to name Kenny as the head coach. Understanding the community is a big thing. Having a head coach who has gone through the system and is from the community is just a great benefit. It’s going to pay benefits for years to come.”
Paolinelli takes over for Yosef Fares, who left for Bullard-Fresno after three years at the helm of the Coyotes. Paolinelli was Fares’ offensive coordinator and part of the coaching staff for three years after beginning with Bonner Cunnings four years ago.
“I have grown a lot,” he said. “It started with Bonner. He gave me a lot of responsibility early on and challenged me as a coach. When Yosef took this thing over, he showed me how to work. It went way beyond what I thought it would be. The amount of work that man put in rubbed off on me. He showed me how to put my head down and grind. He taught me football. More importantly, he helped me make connections all throughout the valley. I’ve built relations all throughout the valley because of Yosef. It’s been a tremendous thing for my career. It’s expanded my knowledge of not only the game of football.”
The Madera High School cafeteria was filled with friends, family and members of the MHS coaching fraternity Thursday night to hear the official announcement.
“It’s great getting the cat out of the bag,” Paolinelli told the crowd. “I’m sure everyone coming in here. I’m excited to be here.”
Before the announcement, Madera Unified School districts director of athletics Marty Bitter called the MHS football coach a high priority.
“This is one of the most important positions we hire because of the visibility,” he said. “The growth he made has been tremendous, not only professionally, but also in football. We talk to our coaches about transformational coaching. It’s important for coaches to understand that we are putting our kids in the hands of the coaches.”
Fares announced his resignation in December and John Fernandez wanted to get the football coach hired by the time the players came back from winter break.
“This is an exciting event, not only for our school, football program, but also for the entire community,” Fernandez said. “I expressed to the players that the search for the new head coach would begin immediately and take all the steps in order to find a new head coach by the time they returned from winter break. Tonight, just a few days past our ultimate goal, we are doing it.”
According to Bitter, 15 people applied for the coaching job.
“There are several other schools and not all of them have nearly that many applicants, which is good for us, which means the job is important and it’s a good job,” he said.
A screening process whittled down the applicants to eight.
“The first panel was to find someone who would fit into the culture at Madera High,” Bitter said. “It was important to find someone to fit into the district expectations, but all those things that means Coyote pride.”
“The initial applicants were screened to the top eight who we believe would thrive whining our demographics, local community, school culture and football program,” Fernandez said.
From there, five finalists were named and brought in for a second interview.
“The second process was X’s and O’s,” Bitter said. “We were able to dig in pretty deep and it was pretty awesome. There was a lot of football experience on our panel. There was one point where one of the panel members told us why are we interviewing more guys because you have your guy right here.”
“The whole panel agreed, without a shadow of a doubt, that we had our new football coach,” Fernandez said. “We forwarded that to the superintendent’s office before his name was presented before the school board for final confirmation. Our interview process was thorough, well detailed and vetted properly. This was done to ensure the next head coach will continue our growth of excellence and what we believe will model and exhibit the proper behavoiors and expectations that oru men and women will present on and off the field.”
For Paolinelli, it completes a circle. He played in the Coyote football program under Randy Blankenship and will now run it. He was the school’s male Athlete of the year in 2007, earned All-League in football, baseball and football and may be the only player in the City/County All-Star sports history to play in all three City/County All-Star games (football, basketball and baseball), in addition to playing in the North/South All-Star football game.
“I have a lot of pride in this program,” Paolinelli said. “I have a lot of love for this program. It helped make into the man I am today. I want to give that these kids in my community. These are the kids I resonate and connect with. I can’t be more excited to help change their lives. These days, there aren’t many role models for kids to look up to and I want to be that person for them. I want to show them you can make it out of Madera and make a change.”
Paolinelli had visions for his program that will concentrate on character, a blue-collar work ethic, alumni involvement, community involvement, work with the feeder program academics and building of character.
In the end. Paolinelli said this is his dream job. He doesn’t have any thoughts of coaching anywhere but at his alma mater.
“We go through trials and tribulations with finding quality head coaches,” Fernandez said. “We’re very lucky to have Kenny and it’s good to hear that he wants to be here. That’ very impactful with our parents and our players by having someone who had decided that this is my home and this is what I want to do is going to resonate in a lot of people. It’s going to make someone excited to know that we have someone who is not looking to move.”
“I’m a product of this program,” he said. “I can’t be more proud to say that and to be a product of Madera. I really, truly believe that this is an awesome community. This is the only community I’ve coached in. This is the only community I want to coach in. this is the only job I applied for. When I finished playing football, this is the job I wanted. This is not a stepping stone for me. This is a place I want to plant my feet and make it a stable place. I want to be here for a long time and win games. I want to create young men, when they graduate high school, they go in the community and do something positive. They come back to Madera and give back like I’m doing now. The only way to make this place better is if we all pitch in and do the right thing and play our part in it. Thank you for allowing me to be your head coach.
“It’s very humbling to see so many people show up to this announcement. I thought that was awesome. There is some pressure that goes with that, but there’s also excitement in me. It’s going to drive me to work that much harder. I hope everyone knows that my heart is for the kids and I’m going to d everything I can to make them better kids and better young men, but also try to put the best product on the field.”