Fight on! Claiborne to lead Coyotes

Former USC, NFL star was defensive coordinator at Long Beach Poly last year

ALL-AMERICAN—Chris Claiborne, 39, is expected to be officially named the new head coach of the Calabasas High football team on Jan. 9. MORGAN LIEBERMAN/Acorn Newspapers

ALL-AMERICAN—Chris Claiborne, 39, is expected to be officially named the new head coach of the Calabasas High football team on Jan. 9. MORGAN LIEBERMAN/Acorn Newspapers

December 15, 2017, will go down as one of the most eventful, if not surreal, days in Calabasas High football history.

After weeks of rumors, Casey Clausen made official his departure from the school a few minutes after 10 a.m. Dec. 15 during a phone call with Calabasas principal C.J. Foss.

The principal then broke the news in a text message to Las Virgenes Unified School District Superintendent Dan Stepenosky, who said he wasn’t surprised by Clausen’s decision to accept the head coaching position at Alemany, his alma mater. Clausen, who led Calabasas for four seasons, including a 10-2 record this year, told CHS two weeks ago that he was interviewing for other jobs.

At 2:30 p.m., Stepenosky, Foss, school district director of instruction Steve Scifres and Calabasas athletic director Jon Palarz interviewed the No. 1 candidate for the newly vacant coaching job.

At 3:30 p.m., less than seven hours after Clausen officially packed his bags, Calabasas picked its new head coach. Chris Claiborne, a former linebacker for USC who played for eight seasons in the NFL, will lead the Coyotes.

“I’m coming back to a place I know,” said Claiborne, who served as Calabasas defensive coordinator under Clausen in 2014 and 2015. “That definitely makes it easier. I know the expectations. I’m looking forward to raising the level.”

Claiborne spent the past two seasons as defensive coordinator at Long Beach Poly.

The coach is beloved by former players. Former Calabasas star Arthur Kaslow expressed his admiration for the coach with Palarz.

“I’m at Dartmouth because of Chris Claiborne,” Kaslow said, according to the athletic director.

Kaslow, who started playing football his junior year of high school, is a sophomore linebacker for Dartmouth.

Palarz said he’s excited to have Claiborne on campus.

“He will do great things for our football program,” Palarz said.

Stepenosky said there was urgency to fill the head coaching position before the new year.

“We didn’t want to go into break without some kinds of plans,” Stepenosky said. “We wanted a coach who’s focused on students’ success in the classroom, in athletics and in the hallways and community.

“Winning is not the focus for me. The experience kids have is the focus for me.”

Claiborne, however, isn’t officially the head coach. The job technically won’t be Claiborne’s until the school board approves his hiring at a Jan. 9 meeting.

The same day he was brought in, Claiborne started to cobble together an all-star coaching staff.

“It’s going to be a like a college atmosphere,” said sophomore quarterback Jaden Casey, who threw for 3,394 yards and 32 scores this fall.

Curtis Conway, who starred at USC before playing 12 years in the NFL, including a memorable stint with the Chicago Bears, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, an Oregon State product who enjoyed an 11-year NFL career, will coach the receivers.

“I believe it’ll benefit us a lot,” said junior receiver Mycah Pittman, who had 1,027 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns this season. “We didn’t have any receiving coaches last year. Johnny (Wilson) and I basically did it off of pure genetics and what we’d learned in our previous years.”

New defensive backs coach Eric King, who played collegiately at Wake Forest, played six years in the NFL.

Claiborne tabbed Mike Jones as offensive coordinator and Matt Villaseñor as director of player development. Andy Flores, who coached the offensive line during the Clausen regime, declined overtures to join Clausen at Alemany, and he’ll stay at Calabasas.

“I need to hit Reggie Bush to see if he can be the running back coach,” Claiborne joked, noting he’s never actually met his fellow Trojan.

Pittman’s father, Michael Pittman Sr., who won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that he’ll be running backs coach.

Claiborne, a 39-year-old who lives in Whittier with his wife Desiree, his son Emmitt and daughters Payton and Avery, said he feels at home in Coyote country.

Claiborne, who has also coached at Oaks Christian, Corona and Diamond Ranch, guided the defense during Clausen’s first year at the helm of a team that once lost 44 straight games. His first year on campus, Calabasas went 6-6. In 2015, the Coyotes claimed their first CIF-Southern Section title.

“I like that we came here with no winning tradition,” Claiborne said. “We had a chance to start something and we were able to do that. Now, to come back and hopefully take it to another level, that’s the ideal situation.”

Casey said he’s excited to reunite with Claiborne. In sixth grade, Casey played for Claiborne’s Frat Boyz 7-on-7 squad.

The quarterback said he’s confident the coach will make a positive impact with Calabasas.

“On the defensive side, I just know he’s the best coach any high school can get,” Casey said. “I like where this program is headed right now.”

Casey and Pittman said Clausen and his brother Rick Clausen, the former offensive coordinator, notified them about their intentions to interview for other coaching jobs nearly a month ago. Casey Clausen did not return multiple phone calls and texts for this story.

“The Clausens talked to me about their frustrations with the LVUSD,” Pittman said. “They wanted to get players in to help keep it a winning program. The LVUSD was being very difficult, (the Clausens) said. They just kind of got fed up with it. Alemany was offering up a good job, so they accepted the job.

“I’m happy for them. I wish them the best. I hope they do great things at Alemany. There’s no hard feelings.”

Expectations remain sky high at Calabasas. Section and state titles are on Pittman’s mind.

“I want two rings in one year,” the receiver said. “Those are my expectations because we have a great team.”

Sports editor Eliav Appelbaum contributed to this story.

In a nutshell

• On Dec. 15, Calabasas High football head coach Casey Clausen quit after four seasons leading the Coyotes.

• Chris Claiborne, a former star player at USC and in the NFL, was selected as the new head coach the same day.

• Claiborne’s hiring won’t be official until the Las Virgenes Unified School District approves the move during a Jan. 9 meeting.

• Former NFL players Curtis Conway, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Michael Pittman Sr. and Eric King are expected to join Claiborne’s coaching staff at Calabasas.