It's the off season in high school football, but the news Wednesday that Jim Benkert will be leaving Westlake High after 26 years as head coach to join the football program at nearby Oaks Christian is going to create excitement and intrigue in Ventura County and across the Southland.
Benkert said he will become co-coach with Bill Redell, who hired him in 1985 to be the offensive coordinator at Encino Crespi and is in his second stint at Oaks Christian. The two have been friends for years. They had weekly lunches last season even though they coached at rival schools.
"I pay all the time," Benkert said. "It's about time he pays."
It was Redell pushing for Benkert's hiring. Now they'll have to divide up coaching duties.
"Some of the best times I had in coaching were with Bill," Benkert said.
Benkert won four Southern Section championships since taking over Westlake's program in 1989. He's moving from a public school with strong parental involvement to a private school with equally strong parental involvement. But having Redell, 73, around with his well-liked personality should allow Benkert to focus on what he does best -- create big-play offensive teams. It also puts Benkert in position to one day succeed Redell.
"I think it's an excellent move for Oaks Christian and the future of Oaks Christian football," Redell said. "He's been a close friend for 32 years and did a fabulous job with me at Crespi."
At Crespi under Redell and Benkert, the Celts won the Big Five Conference championship in 1986, the only time a San Fernando Valley team has won the highest division title.
Benkert will have to make an adjustment leaving the program he built.
"I'm trying to mentally get used to it," he said. "I loved my time here. I loved Westlake football. It's a new challenge. It's neat and exciting."
Westlake will face the immediate challenge of keeping its program and players together. There's the potential for an exodus. Standout junior quarterback Malik Henry would be the No. 1 target.
Ventura County football is undergoing big changes. Former St. Bonaventure Coach Jon Mack was scheduled to be finalized on Wednesday as the new coach at Oxnard High.
With Benkert now at Oaks Christian and former Oaks Christian assistant Casey Clausen at Calabasas, the competition for players is only going to increase.
Benkert will inherit one of the best young quarterbacks around in sophomore-to-be Matt Corral and a top receiver in UCLA commit Michael Pittman.
One thing can be certain about this move -- the one-liners will be flying.
Asked who reporters should speak to after games, Redell said, "If we win, Coach Redell. If we lose, Coach Benkert."