Sean Lynch: The Kaanapu Era begins at Merced College

March 21, 2009 

Sean Lynch

SEAN LYNCH

Mark Kaanapu is never going to forget the day he got the call letting him know he was the new Merced College head football coach.

The details of the day and his conversation with Merced College President Benjamin T. Duran will probably forever be etched into his memory.

How much of those details he elects to share with people is yet to be determined.

As exciting as the news Kaanapu received was, the activity he was participating in when the call came isn't one normally associated with football coaches.

"I was out selling Girl Scout cookies with my daughter," the former offensive lineman admitted with a chuckle. "That should make for an entertaining first impression for the city of Merced."

While the scene does have to bring a smile to your face, it also tells you all you need to know about Kaanapu the man.

He's family oriented and a pillar of the community in which he lives.

Part of what made the former Menlo College head coach so appealing to the school is that football is just one of his concerns.

His former athletic director had nothing but praise for the coach, on and off of the field.

Kaanapu makes sure his players have the fundamentals to be successful on the field, as well as productive members of society.

"A lot of people have asked me why I'd want to go from a four-year school to a JC," said Kaanapu. "And the reason is I want to be a part of Merced College's tradition.

"I've recruited over 45 players from MC during my time at Menlo, and they all had one thing in common.

"They were all fine young men and I wanted to be a part of helping produce that."

Kaanapu made his first official trip as head coach to the campus on Friday and the school rolled out the red carpet.

MC athletic director Steve Cassady served as chauffeur, guiding Kaanapu, his wife and their daughter from building to building as they became acquainted with their new home.

After the tour, Kaanapu had meetings scheduled with the school's returning coaches and his new players.

"This has been as warm a reception as I've seen anywhere," Kaanapu said.

Kaanapu's arrival on campus marked the end of one long process and the beginning of another.

In the coming weeks, Kaanapu will have to make personnel decisions regarding the current staff.

Once that's completed, the staff will hash out a recruiting plan and get to work on the new season.

It's a methodical process, but Kaanapu asks for patience from the die-hard Blue Devil fans.

"A lot of people weren't happy with how long the hiring process took, but it was important for the school to find the right fit," Kaanapu said. "I'm grateful for the process, because it allowed the school to see what I bring other than just football.

"You can be a great football coach, a great teacher or a great member of the community, but the key is to try and find a balance among the three.

"I owe it to the school to provide the same due diligence in choosing my staff and getting ready for the new season."

And what about those concerned over his 31-46 record as a head coach?

"Menlo is one of the smallest schools in the nation and a private school," Kaanapu said. "Even still, the team has a very good chance of being successful next year.

"I'm not the kind of coach that just puts together a winnable schedule. I want to see how we stack up against the elites.

"We went up against some of the best teams in Division III and I moved us into the very tough Northwest Conference.

"The truth of the matter is that I don't have a winning record and people have a right to be concerned until I prove otherwise.

"In other words, I haven't put up, so I'll shut up until I do."

Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at slynch@mercedsun-star.com.

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