A man with small-town roots has been tapped as the new Payson High School football coach to replace Byron Quinlan who resigned last month.
Graham Ellison, who grew up in Marana and then returned there to teach and coach, was officially named football coach at a June 9 school board meeting.
Ellison began his coaching career at Marana Mountain View where he served in a variety of capacities including offensive line, defensive line and linebacker coach as well as head freshman coach.
He also spent one year at Tucson Catalina Foothills as line and special teams coach.
After moving to Cave Creek, he spent a year at Cactus Shadows and another at Shadow Mountain and for three seasons worked at Desert Mountain as the offensive and defensive line coach.
There, he was on the same staff with former Payson High head coach Jerry Rhoades.
Before Ellison began his teaching and coaching career, he played outside linebacker at Arizona Western College.
The new coach is adamant that growing up in a small town will be a huge plus as head coach of the PHS program.
“I have experience in a small community and know what it takes to earn trust while setting positive boundaries,” he said.
Among the first tasks Ellison assumed after being appointed was to distribute to athletes a handbook of expectations and philosophy.
In it, he stressed discipline, setting worthwhile goals, athletes striving to improve themselves, commitment, correcting mistakes and standards of conduct.
The handbook also asks the athletes to be totally committed to the program and loyal to his philosophy.
Ellison also set rules that require players “to conduct themselves with class and dignity, both on and off the field” and to “treat all teachers, administrators and staff members with respect and common courtesy.”
As for the game itself, Ellison says he will run a spread offense with multiple sets including both one and two backs.
He anticipates his team will be ground oriented rather than a pass-first group. That, however, could change because in spring drills Ellison believes he has identified some good receivers.
What Ellison brings that is unique is zone blocking schemes that have not ever been used extensively at PHS.
In zone blocking, fleet footedness and athletic ability trump size as desirable traits of players.
Also, in zone blocking, rules do not changed based on the defensive front as they do in “man block” schemes.
Defensively, “I’ll run the Miami 4-3,” the new coach said.
He was apparently referring to the defense that was thrust into the forefront of college football in the late 1980s by coach Jimmy Johnson and the Miami Hurricanes.
After Johnson went to the Dallas Cowboys and used the 4-3, the defense spread like wildfire.
It, however, will be nothing new at PHS since Rhoades and his defensive coordinator, Kenny Hayes, used it for several seasons. Rhoades’ successor, Josh Anderson, also used the 4-3.
Jake Swartwood, a former PHS standout who was on Quinlan’s staff last season, will serve as defensive coordinator under Ellison.
Also on the staff, Brandon Moore is the junior varsity coach and Mark Henning will head the freshmen.
Ellison also has some part-time coaches on staff and is awaiting a commitment from another assistant.
While Ellison has officially been the head coach only about a week, he actually began his duties much earlier, hosting a four-day spring football session in May and laying plans for a passing camp July 16 to 20 and a football camp for players on all levels July 23 to 26.
Preseason football practices begin at 4 p.m. July 30.
At PUSD, Ellison is an alternative resource teacher working with students from first grade to high school seniors.
He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Northern Arizona University with certifications in special education, clinic counseling and behavior support.
For more information about the football program, call Ellison at (520) 465-9079.