In 1983, John Barnes was five years into his head-coaching career. And he was ready to give up.
After going 19-26 over five seasons at Los Alamitos High School and Magnolia High School – where he won just two games in his first year as a head coach – Barnes was ready to turn in his whistle.
“A lot of people probably thought I should be gone, including myself,” Barnes said. “It was a hard process the first five years.”
One night, Barnes was in the car with legendary former Los Alamitos athletic director Frank Doretti. He told Doretti that he felt that he wasn’t doing the job well enough to continue.
If it was any form of resignation, Doretti didn’t accept it.
“He wasn’t a very emotional guy,” Barnes said. “But he turned and said, ‘Hey, you’re really good for kids. Don’t quit.’ So I kind of said, okay. And that was it.
“I stayed one more year and turned it around and it’s been wonderful for the last 28 or 29.”
Last Thursday night, Barnes became just the fourth coach in California history to reach 300 wins when the Griffins shut out Huntington Beach Marina at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach. He is also just the second coach in the 100-year history of the CIF Southern Section to reach the milestone, and now owns a career record of 300-98-10.
Barnes was honored in a postgame ceremony, with several of his former players and his family in attendance.
The typically stoic Barnes, a Long Beach native who played for nearby St. Anthony’s in high school, was overcome with emotion even before the game started.
“I was very nervous before the game and I’m not usually, after all these years,” Barnes said. “I felt like we just had to win. They kind of planned everything like it was a sure thing but you’ve still got to win the game.”
While Barnes might have been nervous, none of the nerves rubbed off on his team. There was never a doubt that the coach would have to wait another week after Los Al scored on its first six possessions. The whole team came together as a single unit in support of its coach.
“When the game ended… It kind of hit me what had happened,” Barnes said.
As many longtime coaches often become, Barnes has served as a mentor of sorts now to innumerable young men. The winningest coach in Orange County high school football history helped send players like Antoine Cason, Chris Kluwe, Orlando Scandrick, Bernard Riley and Mike Patterson on to Division I programs and then the NFL.
But stars and non-stars are all alike in Barnes’ book. He is still close with former players and is honored to have played a formative roll in many lives.
“The fact that a kid who wasn’t even a starter can come back and say thanks… Wow,” Barnes said. “It’s easier if you were an all-CIF’er but it’s a lot harder if you didn’t play much.
“Every one of them means something (to me).”
Already this season, the Griffins are 5-1. A big night awaits them on Friday, as their high-powered offense will be tested by Huntington Beach Edison’s lock-down defense. Barnes, who has led the team to 16 league championships and four CIF division championships, is confident that this year’s team will add to those numbers. Injuries have hampered the team but they have yet to actually be a detriment to the team.
“We’ve played a full game without 12 starters already,” Barnes said. “But we’re getting better every week.”