As many high school football coaches were making final preparations to begin practice for the upcoming season, Pete Yoder of Esperanza High School made his first move toward a new career Wednesday.
Yoder, 46, who helped build the Aztecs' football program into one of Southern California's best in the past 11 years, resigned as head coach--five days before Esperanza begins practice for the 1986 season--to become director of student activities at the school.
Gary Meek, an Esperanza assistant for nine years, was named to replace Yoder.
For the past few years, Yoder, a physical education teacher who had been a head coach at Blair High of Pasadena and Cal State Fullerton and an assistant at USC, said he has been looking to move into administration. Yoder, who has spent 18 years as a head coach, ultimately aspires to be a principal.
When Karen Wilkins, who had been the school's student activities director, left two weeks ago to become a vice principal at Valencia High, Yoder jumped at the opening.
"I really want to be a principal, and you don't do that by coaching," Yoder said. "My long-term future is in administration. There are certain steps you have to follow, and I'm at an age where I'm still able to start them."
Jim Patterson, Esperanza athletic director, wasn't surprised by Yoder's move--only by the timing.
"With practice starting Monday, things will have to be done quickly," he said Wednesday afternoon.
Patterson didn't scramble for long. He phoned Meek, who was vacationing in Boise, Ida., and offered him the job. Meek will become the third coach in the school's 13-year history.
Both Patterson and Yoder are confident the program will remain strong.
"I'm not turning over a program that's depleted or barren," Yoder said. "We have a high-quality coaching staff, and the continuity of the program will be fine. We have some quality kids returning, and our sophomores were 10-0 last season. I've taken them through spring practice and the summer, so they're ready to go."
Meek will have a strong tradition to uphold. Esperanza was 99-34-4 under Yoder and, in 11 years, won one Southern Section championship (Central Conference in 1979), made three other championship-game appearances, eight semifinal-game appearances, and won four league titles. Yoder's Esperanza teams reached the playoffs every year.
Yoder, who played quarterback for Downey High's 1956 Southern Section co-championship team and its 1957 championship team, became Blair head coach in 1966. Three years later, he led the Vikings to the 1969 4-A title.
Yoder then spent two seasons as an offensive backfield coach at USC under John McKay before becoming head coach at Fullerton in 1972. But after three years and an 18-15 record, he resigned amid controversy.
Ten of Fullerton's 12 black players had boycotted the 1974 season finale, accusing the coaching staff of using a racial quota system and failing to apportion scholarships fairly. They asked that Yoder and most of his staff be fired.
A university investigation cleared Yoder of the racism charges, but found "significant communications and human interaction problems" in his program. Yoder resigned a few months later.
Yoder considered quitting coaching for good, but instead decided to accept the position at Esperanza in 1975, a year after the Aztecs had finished their first football season at 0-8-1. He immediately turned the program around, going 6-4 and earning a playoff berth in his first year.
Before suffering his first losing season last year (5-6), Yoder led the Aztecs two Orange League titles (1978 and 1980) and two Empire League titles (1982 and 1984).
After defeating San Clemente, 14-7, for the 1979 Central Conference championship, Esperanza made three more unsuccessful title-game appearances, losing the 1980 Central Conference championship game to Capistrano Valley, 11-0, the 1982 Southern Conference title game to Los Altos, 31-14, and the 1984 Southern Conference final to El Modena, 26-0.
But Patterson will always remember Yoder as a winner.
"I really appreciate the efforts and dedication he had for the school, the athletes, and football in general," he said. "We'll be better for it."
At Esperanza, Yoder, regarded as an outstanding offensive strategist, always seemed to have outstanding tailbacks, such as Mike Keefe and Jim Farrell, and huge, talented lineman, such as Steve Williams and Mike Knutson.
Yoder's 1969 Blair team, which featured running backs Jim McAlister and Kermit Johnson, scored 580 points--nearly 45 points a game--and the 1984 Aztecs averaged 30 points a game before being shut out by El Modena in the final.
His offenses were much more explosive than his personality, though. Yoder wasn't gregarious. He was never the type to yell, let alone say much. His wife, Charlotte, told The Times in 1984, "He's not a real talker. He's a real thinker."