The Payson High School Longhorn football coaching baton has been passed from Steve Saben to first-year head coach Jerry Rhoades.
After two years at the helm of the PHS football program, Saben's contract was not renewed last fall. At a regularly scheduled school board meeting May 19, Rhoades was named his replacement.
Following his appointment, Payson High School athletic director Dave Bradley lauded Rhoades as a coach who impresses others he works along side.
"In talking to all the previous coaches, they all praise his knowledge, skills and abilities," Bradley said. "He has been an assistant with some topnotch head coaches."
Rhoades brings to the Horn program extensive gridiron experience including stints at Mingus in Cottonwood; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Bradshaw Mountain in Prescott Valley; Yuma Kofa; and at Mesa Red Mountain.
Last season, Rhoades served as the defensive coordinator at Mingus.
His experience there could bode well for Payson. Next season, the Longhorns move to the Class 4A Grand Canyon region of which Mingus is a member.
As the Marauders' former defensive coordinator, Rhoades has extensive knowledge of what gridiron life will be like in the Grand Canyon.
"He knows the league, he knows where we are headed," Bradley said.
Prior to coaching at Mingus, Rhoades spent a year as a defensive coordinator at Santa Fe High School in New Mexico.
Before moving to New Mexico, he spent three years on the defensive side of the ball at Bradshaw Mountain and before that, five seasons at Yuma Kofa.
His career began as a teacher at Queen Creek, but his coaching responsibilities were at Red Mountain under head coach Jimmy Jones.
A 1985 graduate of Northern Arizona University, Rhoades was raised in Hayden where he was on teams for football, baseball, basketball and track. After graduation from HHS in 1978, he attended Eastern Arizona College. There, be played baseball and football.
In a recent meeting with his perspective coaching staff, Rhoades said much of his football philosophy has been influenced by three head coaches he has served under -- John Rodriguez of Bradshaw Mountain, Steve Casey, Yuma Kofa, and Bob Young, Mingus.
The new coach said his goals for the program include developing consistency, commitment and unselfishness in the players.
"We will work everyday on improving ourselves as a person, student and athlete," he said.
Longhorn football, he added, "will be predicated on self-discipline, effort and enthusiasm."
Rhoades also told the perspective coaches that he is a huge supporter of developing tradition in the football program.
"The future of Longhorn football is really about the history of Payson football," he said. "We plan to honor everyone who has ever donned a Longhorn jersey.
"We want any player who has ever put their neck on the line, shed a tear, bled or sweated on the PHS football field to be proud of the product we put out."
The new coach also claims a strong work ethic will be the key to Payson's success in the 4A conference. "We must outwork our opponents," he said. "Moving to 4A, we need to raise the bar and give no excuses."
At Payson, Rhoades plans on installing the 4-3 as the base defense and the time-tested Wing-T offense.
The new coach also admits he is a big believer in special teams and plans on devoting extensive practice time to perfecting proper techniques in kick offs, kick returns, punts and punt returns.
The new coach will also be an English Language Learners teacher at Rim Country Middle School.
Rhoades will meet and greet his prospective players Monday, May 19, when spring practices open at 3:30 p.m. on the Rumsey Park south field.
Also on the docket for gridiron hopefuls is a summer weight training program and passing league play.
Rhoades plans on offering the players two opportunities to train during the summer. The first will occur early in the morning and the other during the evening hours.
For more information on spring and summer football, call Rhoades at 474-4511.