Amaral steps down as boys basketball coach
by Paul Teetor
Mira Costa High School boys basketball coach Jeff Amaral, who achieved the rare distinction of coaching a team he once played for and led it to a consistent winning record until this year, has resigned after seven seasons on the job.
The Mustang program is already facing the looming question of where it will play and practice for the next one-to-two years after venerable Fisher Gymnasium is torn down sometime next fall or winter to make way for a new, $38 million athletic complex. Now it will have to find a new coach willing to deal with those adverse conditions while playing in the very competitive Bay League.
Amaral says he is leaving the team in good shape and whoever gets the job will inherit an outstanding group of underclassmen, led by the team’s best player, point guard Lucas Hobbs, scrappy center Henry Householter and deadeye shooter Carson Carey.
“I’ve got three children, seven years and younger, and right now I need to spend more time with them,” he said, in explanation of the reason for his resignation.
Mira Costa Principal Ben Dale said he reluctantly accepted Amaral’s resignation.
“I was surprised,” Dale admitted. “I didn’t see this coming.”
The resignation came shortly after Mira Costa ended its season with a close loss to its traditional rival, Redondo. The loss prevented the Mustangs from making the playoffs, the first time they have missed the postseason action under Amaral. In all previous six seasons, they made the playoffs and won at least one postseason game.
The Redondo loss left Costa with a final overall record of 12-14 and fourth place in the Bay League at 5-5. CIF rules bar any team with a record under .500 or less than a third-place finish in its league from making the playoffs.
“That .500 rule really did us in this year,” Amaral said. “If we had made the playoffs, I think we could have scratched out at least one win and kept our streak going.”
Amaral, 38, graduated from Mira Costa in 1998 after playing forward on the varsity for two years. He was named the head coach before the 2011-12 season.
He said he had many great memories from his tenure, during which his teams compiled a 120-81 record.
“We had a great win over Redondo when Cooper Pugnale hit a buzzer beater, and we had a quarter-final win in the playoffs my second year,” he said. “We were the first Costa team to make the semi-finals in a long time.”
He fondly recalled some of his favorite players over those seven years.
“Cole Feaster, Kevin Kim, Justin Strings, Adam Greise — who played his tail off for us —
and Brandan Chan and so many others made me proud to be their coach,” he said. “That’s what I’m going to miss the most: working with the kids.”
Dale said the school will conduct a national search for a new coach but added that it will be relatively quick.
“We expect to have the new coach hired by spring break,” he said. “We’re waiting until after the playoffs are over to advertise it because we don’t want to be a distraction. It’s open to all inside and outside candidates.”
Dale said he doesn’t think the waiting period for a new athletic complex with two gyms, a wrestling room, two weight rooms, a dance studio and a steam room will be a serious deterrent to getting the kind of coach they want.
“Hopefully we’ll get a coach who is looking to stay longer than one or two years,” he said.
He said no final decisions have been made about the interim period, but that they could possibly play their home games at Redondo’s smaller gym.
“We helped them out while they were doing their renovation a few years ago, and now they could be a great help to us,” he said. “But we’re looking all over the South Bay for the right place.”
Practices will probably be held at Manhattan Beach Middle School or some other local gym, he said.
Some sources familiar with the Mustang program said there was an incident shortly before the season ended where an assistant coach blew up at the players, cursed them out and threw them out of practice. Some parents insisted Amaral fire the assistant, which he refused to do.
Without going into specifics about the incident, Dale said that parental pressure or unhappiness with Amaral had nothing to do with the resignation.
“With high school sports there is always going to be something going on,” he said. “When there is a lot of success you don’t ever hear about it, but when there’s change, everyone is trying to figure out what happened, and these kinds of stories come out.”
Amaral, he said, will be greatly missed. “I’ve always had nothing but the highest regard for Jeff,” he said. “He carried out his duties with honor and integrity and represented our school with class.”
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by Paul Teetor