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Right guy, right time: New MC football coach prepared for challenge

Merced College got its man.

More than two months after the school launched its nationwide search for the fourth head football coach in Blue Devils history, MC President Benjamin T. Duran announced Tuesday afternoon that Menlo College Oaks head football coach Mark Kaanapu will succeed Tony Lewis.

The Blue Devils were in search of a coach who could not only help return the football program to its glory years, but would be equally dedicated to the education and discipline of the young men in his charge.

Duran believes Kaanapu is just the coach to do that.

"Obviously, (Kaanapu's) experience and overall knowledge of football were very impressive, but just as important, were the comments I got about how he raises student-athletes," Duran said. "We were impressed by his grasp of organizational planning for football and how he had done his homework for Merced and Merced College.

"He came in with a binder and already had a plan of action all lined out."

Kaanapu has spent the last 11 years with Menlo College and was named head coach of the NAIA Division III school in 2001.

In eight seasons as head coach, he's compiled a 31-46 record.

Kaanapu has also been an assistant with the Arena Football League's San Jose Sabercats and had a stint at West Valley Community College in Saratoga.

While at Menlo, Kaanapu was responsible for budgeting, fundraising, staff development, recruitment and facilities planning. MC thinks the experience should have him prepared for the challenges he'll face at the junior college.

"(Kaanapu's) brought a lot of stability to our program over the years and he's been able to do more with less," Menlo College athletic director Keith Spataro said. "We're very restricted in terms of our budget and all that, and Mark is excellent at getting the most out of what he has."

The new Blue Devil coach inherits a program that hasn't pieced together a winning season in 11 years.

Merced College does have plenty of talent returning, including a veteran offensive line. Kaanapu may have a little catching up to do on the recruiting trail, but MC athletic director Steve Cassady doesn't see that being a problem.

"He's a relentless recruiter, is excellent at running all aspects of a football program and has a reputation for getting the most out of his kids in the classroom," Cassady said. "I think we absolutely got the best guy for the job.

"I like the fact that we don't have to wait for him to catch up. He can hit the ground running."