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Search for new football coaches begins for East Union, Lathrop
Bulletin sports 2020-21
Willie Herrera speaks with an official from the sideline during East Union’s home game against Lathrop on Sept. 23, 2016. - photo by HIME ROMERO/Bulletin file photo

East Union and Lathrop high schools have begun their searches for new head football coaches.

On Friday, Willie Herrera announced in a letter addressed to players, their parents and his assistants that he has been dismissed by East Union administration after spending the last 15 years with the program, 10 as its head coach. 

Earlier in the week, Joe Pirillo turned in his letter of resignation as Lathrop head coach, a position he has held for six years.

Bulletin sports 2020-21
Joe Pirillo
Athletic directors of both schools are hoping to have replacements by the end of the academic year. 

J.J. Ramirez, East Union’s A.D., confirmed Herrera’s dismissal.

 “He is a great man, a great father and a great teacher,” Ramirez said of Herrera. “The kids love him, and this will not change who he is. I just felt the timing was right to go in a different direction in the upcoming season. 

“It was tough to do and wasn’t an easy decision because he has done so much for the program in the last 10 years. He put his heart and soul into the program and I know it was very hard on the players and the coaching staff.  I thank for him for all he’s done for the kids and the program over the last 10 years. He’s a fantastic role model.”

Herrera, who is still on campus as a special needs teacher, said he wasn’t surprised by the decision and even understands it, but it was still hard for him to take. 

“As a coach, when we’re not winning as much as we want we know it’s always a possibility,” Herrera said. “When you look at wins and losses, it’s our record is full of losses and not enough wins and I totally get it. But football is more than wins and losses and that goes for coaches in any sport in general. We teach the fundamentals of life and that was the priority.”

The Lancers were 30-66 under Herrera. He was the defensive coordinator under Mike James in 2010 when East Union made its first Sac-Joaquin Section postseason appearance since 1992, needing a shocking Week-10 upset win over undefeated rival Manteca to advance.

East Union graduated much of its talent from that team and began to rebuild the following season with Herrera at the helm. The program trudged through three straight one-win seasons and eventually made back-to-back playoff appearances in 2016 and 2017, going 13-9 those two years. 

The Lancers finished 2-2 in this pandemic-shortened spring season. They opened with a 39-6 statement win over reigning Division IV-AA state champion Ripon.

Herrera is especially proud of the culture and traditions he has helped establish with the team off the field, including community service work and the creation of the Lancer Quarterback Club that helps spearhead fundraising for the program. 

“It was an absolute honor,” Herrera said of his time as East Union coach. Although he’s a 1999 graduate of St. Mary’s in Stockton, both of his parents and wife Melissa are among the many East Union alums in the family. He is proud to have met and befriended legendary EU coaches such as the late Bill Stricker and Jim Brown

“Even though I didn’t go to high school there, having the opportunity to work and be head coach at East Union is something I took extremely serious. It was a complete honor to coach under a man like Mike James, whom I adore. I just wanted to do right by the guys who set the stage before me and was humbled to be in that spot.”

At Lathrop, Pirillo will continue teaching math until the end of the school year. He has accepted a teaching position with Riverbank High, which cuts his commute considerably as he lives within 10 minutes from campus in Modesto. 

“Coach Pirillo has done an outstanding job with the kids who have shown great character at the school,” Lathrop A.D. Chuck Selna said, also lauding Pirillo’s support for multi-sport athletes and organization. 

“I want to thank Coach Pirillo for his time and efforts at Lathrop High School and wish him nothing but the best of luck.”

Pirillo is the third head coach in Lathrop’s short history, going 18-34. The Spartans made school history in his inaugural season in 2015, making the postseason while earning the No. 1 seed in the SJS Division IV bracket. That team finished 6-5.

Pirillo is a 2004 Manteca High graduate and is grateful to have gotten his start as a teacher and coach with Manteca Unified. 

“It has been a very fun time at Lathrop,” he said. “It’s the first place to give me a chance with my first head coaching job. It’s a great place to get my start as a teacher. It’s a close-knit family on campus and the kids are really great. Chuck and Greg (Leland, Lathrop’s principal) are great mentors.

“All of those things made this decision hard for me, but I want to see Lathrop succeed. The school is in a prime position to bring in another coach, and I know it’s a coveted job that will have a lot of applicants.”

Pirillo added that he is doing what he can to ease the transition while he is on campus and wants to continue the relationships he has built with the student-athletes after he is gone. Pirillo is not ruling out coaching again in the near future.

“I love football, and if I can keep coaching that would be great,” he said.