Dan Ellington is the LCCN All-Area Coach of the Year. Again.
But, if it were up to him, the Santa Maria coach would alter the award just a bit. He'd call it the All-Area Coaching Staff of the Year.
Ellington says his staff is that vital to what the Saints did in 2017.
What was the best coaching move Ellington made this year? He says it's putting together a staff that works while also being lucky enough to have a talented group of players.
"I'd give myself an A-plus for putting guys around me," Ellington said. "I built a coaching staff this year that did a great job. I don't do this by myself, I have a really good coaching staff. They all did a great job and it was nice to have a staff that allowed me to be the head coach and bought into the things that I wanted to do. Obviously, they have a say in everything we do and we just worked real well together as a team."
Ellington ran the Santa Maria defense while assistant coach Matt Andree led the high-powered Santa Maria offense that scored 506 points in 14 games.
Santa Maria went 9-5 and lost to Big Bear in the CIF Southern Section Division 12 title game.
The rest of Santa Maria's staff is a deep, local group. Juan Jaime, a Righetti grad who's coached all over the Santa Maria Valley, assisted with the offensive line and Doniel Galloway was the defensive line coach. James Talamantes coached up the linebackers and Ellington's brother Derrick was a defensive assistant.
Albert Mendoza was a secondary coach, Gabriel Athie coached receivers and defensive backs and Mario Melendez led the special teams unit. Even Joey Orosco, who helped coach the SMHS baseball team to a CIF title in the spring, was busy helping out with equipment.
Ellington did admit that his game-planning improved later on in the season. But he notes a coach's plan is only as good as his players.
"As the season progressed I thought I did a better job of game-planning and that really helped, but a good coach has good players," Ellington said. "So I'd give myself a good grade for having solid players."
Though Ellington was surrounded by an experienced staff and a talented group of players, he didn't allow himself to ease up on preparation.
Leading a varsity football program is a grind and it is no different at Santa Maria. Ellington admitted a 15-week season did bring an added workload.
The typical game-week for Ellington and his staff went something like this: After a Friday night game, he would go home and watch film from the game on Hudl. Saturday mornings featured a coaching-staff breakfast at The Pantry, across the street from the high school.
"We'd talk about things we could've done better and things we need to do for the upcoming opponent," Ellington said of the staff breakfasts on Saturdays.
Then the coaches would return to campus to meet the players at 10 a.m.
"We'd watch our game film and then the kids would leave at noon and we'd stay until 4 or 4:30 to break down the film and get ready for the next week," Ellington said. "Then I'll stay till about 7 at night doing what I need to do to make sure I'm ready for my defensive coordinator position.
"Sunday is family day with my wife, so I do what I can there but football is usually on my mind. Any break I get I'm watching some film or texting my coaches, especially coach Andree, about things we are going to do."
Then on Monday mornings, it's more film with the team, looking at the upcoming opponent. The team also lifts weights every morning.
"We have a first-period weights class where they lift and then we practice, which starts at 3:30 and we usually end here at about 6:30. I usually get home, once everything is said and done, at about 7:30 or 8. I do that all the way through Thursday."
On Thursdays, the players would have a short practice and walk-through before a team meal, provided the by school's boosters.
"We'd make sure the kids have enough fluids in them and that they have some good food the night before the game," Ellington said. "Then we'd talk a little bit about what we need to do to be ready to play mentally. Then Friday is gameday."
Ellington is also a special education teacher at the school. He says his coaching routine and a lot of his organizational techniques come from things he picked up during his time as a player and assistant coach.
Ellington picked up a little bit from Brian Hamilton, who spent a decade as Concord High's head coach in Northern California and is now on the staff at Cal.
But there has been one major influence on Ellington.
"Probably the big portion of my experience is from Greg Dickinson over at Pioneer Valley," Ellington said. "I was kind of like his shadow during the years I was there. I really wanted to see what it took to be a head coach so I studied what he did and took a lot of his things. While I was coaching at PV I kind of made them my own.
"Then I came here to Santa Maria High School and took everything I had and developed my own plan."
The Saints have won 16 games the past three seasons under Ellington. The Saints won a combined 17 games in the 11 seasons before he arrived, with the Saints struggling to compete in the Los Padres League.
Ellington is focused on taking some time away from football during holidays. Though he does admit there is still quite a buzz around the program and excitement on what lies ahead for the Saints, who will compete in a new-look league and the Central Section next season.
"We put a lot of time and effort into this thing and I think it's healthy as a coach to get away from the game of football and kind of let things rest," Ellington said. "I know when I was younger I'd already be planning everything. Football never stops running through my mind, but I just try and get away from it for a little bit and enjoy the family over the Christmas break.
"But, saying that, the kids are excited and they're already talking to me about next year and when we're going to start lifting weights again. The other coaches are asking about our plans for next year. I've had to tell them to hold up and take a break here and we'll get after it. This is a great time and it's been a really good experience, one I'll never forget."