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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Northridge Counts Down to Three

Football: From nearly 60 coaching applications, Matadors narrow search to Kearin, Ponciano and Mason.

January 24, 1998|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — Cal State Northridge on Friday moved a step closer to hiring a football coach by settling on three finalists, two with ties to the school.

Paul Bubb, Northridge athletic director, said a search and screening committee selected Jeff Kearin, a Matador assistant; Ron Ponciano, San Jose State's defensive coordinator and Tom Mason, Northern Iowa's defensive coordinator.

The three will be interviewed next week in this order: Kearin on Monday, Ponciano on Tuesday and Mason on Wednesday.

Bubb said the committee will continue to review applications and could conduct additional interviews next week, but he hopes to hire someone by Friday.

"I think they all bring something that fits with what we've set in motion here," Bubb said. "They've all been at the Division I level and they've got some understanding of what our program is about, and I think that's important."

Northridge's job opened Jan. 5 when Jim Fenwick resigned to become offensive coordinator at New Mexico. Fenwick coached the Matadors one season.

The Matadors last year finished with a 6-6 record, 4-4 in Big Sky play.

About 60 coaches applied for the position.

Kearin, 38, is Northridge's running backs and special teams coach. He was the offensive coordinator in 1995-96 under Coach Dave Baldwin, now at San Jose State, and was an assistant at USC from 1991-94.

In 1996, Northridge averaged 460.2 yards, fourth-best among Division I-AA schools and third-best in the Big Sky Conference.

"I said all along this is the best job in football," Kearin said. "All I've ever asked is to get in front of the committee and tell them what I can do."

Ponciano, 38, was Northridge's defensive coordinator from 1995-96 and left with Baldwin for San Jose State. His other stints as an assistant included Azusa Pacific in 1984, USC from 1987-89, Valley College in 1989 and Missouri Western State from 1993-94.

"That's a compliment to [Ponciano]," Baldwin said. "In my mind, he's their best candidate. . . . He's a great person and a great coach, and I don't want to lose him."

Last season, San Jose State allowed 404.2 yards per game, but that was an improvement over the 499.0-yard average in 1996.

Mason, 41, spent last season at Northern Iowa after stops at Eastern Washington, Portland State and Boise State.

He was at Boise State from 1993-96, serving as interim coach his final season there while Coach Pokey Allen underwent cancer treatments.

In 1994, Boise State won the Big Sky title and led the conference in scoring defense, allowing 18.6 points per game. The Broncos ranked seventh in the nation that season in rushing defense at 94.4 yards per game.

Mason is familiar with Northridge because the Matadors and Portland State met several times when both played in the Western Football Conference in the late 1980s.

"I'm excited to have the opportunity to go in and talk to [Northridge]," Mason said.

"Ever since Boise State, I've wanted to become a head coach."

Northridge is looking to hire its fourth coach since 1994, when Bob Burt resigned after nine seasons with the Matadors, and 10th in school history.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Short List

The finalists for vacant head coaching position at Cal State Northridge as announced Friday:

JEFF KEARIN

Matador Assistant

Formerly an assistant coach for Dave Baldwin at Northridge (1995-'96) and at USC ('91-'94)

RON PONCIANO

San Jose State

Def. Coordinator

Former defensive coordinator at Northridge left with Baldwin to coach the Spartans.

TOM MASON

Northern Iowa

Def. coordinator

Has also coached at Eastern Washington, Portland State and Boise State.

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