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Don Willis, who coaches football at SBCC, has also been named school's track and field coach
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Don Willis, who coaches football at SBCC, has also been named school's track and field coach

Don Willis has some roots in track and field, and he has returned to them

Earlier this week, Santa Barbara City College named Willis as its head track and field coach. "I'll be the head coach for the men's and women's programs," Willis said.

"I had not been involved in coaching the program before this."

He replaces Scott Santella. "(School officials) just told me he wasn't coming back," as the head of the SBCC track and field program, Willis said.

Willis is a Cabrillo High School graduate. He competed in the shot put and discus in high school and college. He also coached high school track and field at the high school level.

Thus, "I'm familiar with the sport, which makes it easier," to step in to coach it, Willis said.

In his second stint there, Willis has been an assistant football coach at SBCC since 2017. He is the Vaqueros' defensive coordinator. He coached one year there, 2013, previously. 

"I thought about applying for a track coaching job in 2017, when I first came here (for the second coaching stint), but I wanted to get my feet wet first," Willis said.

Willis played football at the University of Washington for three years and North Carolina A &T before playing professional football as an offensive lineman.

"I was in track and field during the indoor season when I was in college," he said. "There are some football players who are also track athletes. They're a rare breed."

Renaldo Nehemiah was the first man to run the 110 hurdles in under 13 seconds. He is a former world record holder and was No. 1 in the world for four straight years. He was also a wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers from 1982-84.

Willis signed a contract with the Seattle Seahawks in 1995. He played for the New Orleans Saints from 1995-97 and the Kansas City Chiefs from 1999-2004.

Quarterback Trent Green directed a record-breaking Chiefs offense in the 2003-4 NFL season, and the Chiefs went 13-3 during the regular season, winning the AFC West championship.

The Indianapolis Colts beat the Chiefs 38-31 in the AFC Divisional playoffs. There were no punts by either side in that one.

"We lost to Peyton Manning, I mean the Colts," Willis said with a chuckle. The Chiefs offense had seven pro bowlers, including Green, that year.

Willis was the football coach at Santa Maria in 2012, coached at SBCC in 2013, then was the football coach  alma mater, Cabrillo, from 2014-2016. He also coached track there.

In September of 2016, Willis was arrested on suspicion of DUI. He was not on the sidelines the last five games and later resigned from Cabrillo, citing personal reasons.

"Everybody makes mistakes. It's how you respond to the mistake that matters. That's what we tell our young men," said Willis.

"After you make the mistake, do you learn from it or do you repeat the mistake?"

The California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) recently released a three-tiered return plan in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which wiped out the rest of the CCCAA 2020 spring season last March.

For now, the CCCAA is going with its Conventional plan that calls for its member football teams, of which SBCC is one, to begin practice Aug. 31 and play their season openers Sept. 26.

The organization slated July 17 as the deadline to decide which plan to go with. It stated that if there is an upsurge in California COVID-19 cases by then, the plan that would call for football to be a spring sport in 2021 would go into effect.

"I think the (CCCAA) has handled this very well," said Willis. "They were deliberate (with announcements). Now that they have made a concrete announcement, it gives everyone something to go on.

"We are operating as though practice will start Aug. 31."

Don Willis and his family watched happily as the Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers in the 2020 Super Bowl for the franchise's first Super Bowl title since 1970, when the Chiefs beat the heavily favored Minnesota Vikings 23-7.

"My wife (Rebecca) is from there, so obviously we still have family there," said Don Willis.

Like, well, probably just about every NFL fan, Willis is sold on Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

"Knowing something about the sport, there's something in him that I haven't seen before," said Willis.

"I can't recall someone being so calm, whatever the pressure. Trent was a fantastic quarterback, the best I've played for but, seeing Mahomes, I can't help wonder 'What would it be like to block for him?'"  

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Sports Reporter

Kenny Cress, sportswriter for the Santa Maria Times since September of 2000. BA in political science from Cal Poly Pomona. BA in journalism from Cal State Northridge.

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