The continuity of the Manteca High football team’s coaching staff has been integral in fostering its long stretch of success that started in the early 2000s.
Last week, the Buffaloes completed their first summer program without one of those familiar faces. Longtime offensive coordinator Neil MacDannald quietly resigned from the position in January. He’ll remain as head coach of the school’s varsity baseball team in the spring.
Mark Varnum has been elevated from sophomore head coach to call the shots for the varsity offense in place of MacDannald.
“He called plays in five section championship games, so obviously that experience and that knowledge will be very hard to replace, for sure,” head coach Eric Reis said of MacDannald.
Manteca’s core coaching triumvirate — including defensive coordinator Rick James — had been together since Reis took over the program in 2002. MacDannald was a holdover from the previous regime led by the late Joe Miller. Together, they guided Manteca to the 2001 Sac-Joaquin Section Division II championship. MacDannald, a math teacher at MHS, previously served as receivers and inside linebackers coach in 2000 for the Buffs.
In all, MacDannald, 42, has been part of six section championship games, five of which Manteca won, and two CIF Northern California Regional Bowl Games. The Buffaloes captured the SJS Division IV crown last fall before losing to Menlo-Atherton in a NorCal game.
He has also led Manteca’s baseball team to two section titles, and the 2014 club was named the Cal-Hi Sports Division III State Team of the Year.
MacDannald has spent much of this football-free summer with his family, which was the whole reason for him stepping down. His daughter, Kaylee, is going into her sophomore year at Manteca where she is a softball standout, and his son Caden is entering the sixth grade.
“My daughter went to her first Manteca High football game in Los Banos when she was eight days old — that was 15 years ago,” MacDannald said, adding that his son has been on the sidelines in the last couple seasons as a water boy. “It’s tough being away from my family so much because football takes up so much of our time, but at the same time it’s tough for my family for me to step down because they are so infused in Manteca High football.”
Manteca’s offense has varied under MacDannald over the years. The Buffaloes have mostly remained true to their identity as a run-first, smash-mouth team, but MacDannald — a wide out at University of Mary during his playing days — hasn’t shied away from opening up the attack when the personnel warrants it. Returning senior quarterback Gino Campiotti shattered several single-season program records in 2016.
“The football team is in good hands right now,” MacDannald said. “It’s not like I was the head guy and the world is coming to an end or anything like that. Gino is basically a coach on the field, and with Eric’s leadership and what Varnum brings to the table I don’t feel like I’m leaving anyone hanging.”
Varnum joins the varsity staff after coaching in the lower levels for the past five years. He was co-head coach with Josh Farris for the 2016 sophomore team that finished 9-1 and is excited about the new opportunity. Varnum has also coached the school’s wrestling team but stepped down to focus on football.
“Obviously huge, huge shoes to fill,” Varnum said. “Mac is a great friend of mine, a great guy and one of the smartest football guys I’ve ever been around. I’ve tried to absorb everything I could the past few years. Hopefully we keep this thing rolling.”
Varnum’s no-nonsense approach with the players and background as a lineman fit well at Manteca, Reis said. He played collegiately for Puget Sound, where he was named to the All-Northwest Conference team in 2000 and 2001.
“I was a pulling guard so I have that lineman’s mentality, but when you have a quarterback like Gino you definitely want to open things up a little bit,” Varnum said. “I think we’ll play to our strengths and use the weapons that we have. We have five, six, seven guys who need to get the ball in their hands. That’s a challenge, but it’s a good problem to have.”
Manteca had a good showing in its final 7-on-7 scrimmage of the summer with visiting Lincoln of Stockton last Thursday, July 6.
“There’s no scoreboard and it doesn’t count for real, but I think we got a pretty good rhythm with what we’re doing and we were crisp with what we’re doing,” Reis said.
Manteca will take part in a full-contact scrimmage at Monterey Trail (Elk Grove) on Aug. 19 before it starts for real Aug. 25 when San Jose powerhouse Valley Christian visits Guss Schmiedt Field. The MacDannalds are sure to be there.
“I’m a fan now,” MacDannald said. “I still have a lot at stake in the kids, and some of my best friends are coaching still. I’m definitely a big supporter.”