Mesa Skyline coach Angelo Paffumi has team on rise

Mesa Skyline coach Angelo Paffumi has team on rise


Mesa Skyline coach Angelo Paffumi has team on rise


When Mesa Public Schools Athletic Director Steve Hogen was interviewing candidates for the Mesa Skyline football coaching position two years ago, he knew exactly the kind of man he wanted.

It had to be someone who believed — passionately — that Skyline could succeed in Division I even though its last winning season was in 2008.

It had to be someone who could convince kids to stay at Skyline rather than open enrolling at Mesa Desert Ridge, just two miles away, or Mesa Red Mountain, six miles in the opposite direction.

Finally, it had to be someone who just by the force of their personality would put their imprint on the program.

As soon as Hogen began talking to Angelo Paffumi, he knew he had his man.

“He very much believes in himself and in what he’s trying to do,” Hogen said. “He had a vision of what he wanted to happen. … He was pretty blunt in the interview. He said, ‘You’re losing players to Desert Ridge. You can’t let that happen. Your kids need to stay at home.’ ”

Two years later, Paffumi’s transformation of Skyline’s program has taken hold. Skyline (6-3) is ranked No. 13 in Division I and should make the playoffs even if it loses to Red Mountain on Friday. Skyline still isn’t in the same neighborhood as Desert Ridge — that was evident in Desert Ridge’s 42-19 victory on Oct. 11 — but it’s no longer the red-headed stepchild.

“It’s gone slower than I thought, but it’s starting to change,” Paffumi said. “We’ll be better next year than we are this year.”

Paffumi was an inspired choice by Hogen, but also a risky one. Paffumi had applied for other jobs in the district only to be turned away. He believed administrators were scared off by his 10 years as an assistant at Gilbert High under the legendary Jesse Parker.

“Jesse wasn’t afraid of making waves, and I think a lot of people in the district thought that because I was affiliated with him I’d make waves, too,” Paffumi said. “I almost had given up on trying to get a job.”

That fear wasn’t unwarranted, by the way. Paffumi can get a little loose with his emotions on the sideline. Officials that work a Skyline game know they’ll get an earful from the coach.

“I do stuff sometimes that gets my team in trouble because of me being a dumb-ass,” Paffumi said.

On the other hand, that vigorous personality was exactly what Skyline needed. Paffumi’s predecessor, Pete Jonovich, was considered one of the all-time nice guys in high school football, but Skyline required a stronger voice, somebody who would forcefully shake the program out of its lethargy.

Paffumi has done just that. Skyline is 11-8 over the past two seasons after going 6-26 from 2009 through 2011.

“I think he’s done a great job,” Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock said. “His kids are flying around. They line up and play hard. He doesn’t have a wealth of talent, but what they do have they’re maximizing.”

Paffumi’s hiring could have created some hard feelings between himself and Hathcock. Paffumi had been Desert Ridge’s defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator the previous three seasons, and now he’s playing Desert Ridge every year and competing for the same kids in open enrollment.

Both coaches, however, said their relationship has survived.

“My philosophy has always been that if a coach takes a move up I’m happy for him, no matter where he goes,” Hathcock said. “It would have been really selfish for me to say it was a bad move for him to make.”

Paffumi is still in the early stages of rebuilding Skyline’s program — and its reputation. Skyline’s six wins have come against teams with a combined 16-38 record. But success is a gradual scale; to take the next step Paffumi will have to increase Skyline’s participation numbers. It has 33 players on its varsity roster compared to 74 for Desert Ridge.

That gap will close if Paffumi can convince kids in Skyline’s boundary area to stay home.

“Nobody is going to transfer to Skyline,” he said. “We have to make them believe, to get them to have a chip on their shoulder and know that if they work harder success will come.”

Reach Bordow at or 602-444-7996. Follow him on Twitter at


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