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Ponciano Has Encore at CSUN

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Little more than a year after leaving Cal State Northridge, Ron Ponciano is headed back, this time as the school’s football coach.

Ponciano, the defensive coordinator at Northridge in 1995-96 and at San Jose State last season, was hired Friday to lead the Matadors.

He returns to a team that some believe could have been his to run last season, after Dave Baldwin left in December 1996 to coach San Jose State. But Ponciano opted not to go through the process and Jim Fenwick got the Northridge job.

“I just evaluated the situation and I felt Jim would be the leading candidate. I had a sure thing at San Jose State, so why risk it at Northridge?” Ponciano said. “Career-wise, it was the right thing for me at the time.”

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Ponciano, 38, is diving right into the job. He planned to drive Friday night from San Jose to Rancho Cucamonga, where he and his wife have relatives, and meet with the Northridge football staff today.

“We’ve got to take care of business in the recruiting department,” Ponciano said. “They’ve had their hands tied a little waiting for a new coach.”

Paul Bubb, Northridge’s athletic director, said Ponciano will be introduced at a news conference Wednesday at the school. Bubb would not specify how much the contract is worth but said it is for at least three years.

The position opened Jan. 5 when Fenwick resigned to become offensive coordinator at New Mexico. He coached the Matadors one season at a $72,000 base salary.

Bubb said earlier that Northridge might look into putting clauses in its contracts with coaches to keep them from breaking the agreements and going elsewhere.

Ponciano beat out Northridge assistant Jeff Kearin and Northern Iowa defensive coordinator Tom Mason. The three were the finalists from about 60 applicants and were interviewed by a Northridge search committee on separate days this week.

“One of the things the [football] team was really concerned about was continuity,” Bubb said. “The team felt comfortable with Jeff as well, but overall, the total group of people who met with the candidates made it clear that Ron was their choice.

"[Ponciano] made it very clear to me this wasn’t just a whimsical thing with him. He really wants to be here.”

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Ponciano said his desire to become a head coach and Northridge’s setting in a football talent-rich region prompted him to seek the position, even though the program is financially strapped.

“When I first started coaching, the big thing I learned was only to take a job that’s very recruitable and obviously Northridge is very good for that,” Ponciano said.

Kearin, Northridge’s special teams and running backs coach, was gracious despite falling short for the second consecutive time on his quest for the job. He was the Matadors’ offensive coordinator in 1995-96 and applied to replace Baldwin but was not a finalist.

“Ron is a great choice,” Kearin said. “He still has the same fire and vision for the program like when he was here. We are good friends.”

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Kearin said he’s not worried about Ponciano making sweeping changes to the staff, a distinct possibility had Mason received the post. Another Northridge assistant said Mason told him point-blank he already had someone in mind for his spot.

Ponciano’s stints as an assistant included Azusa Pacific in 1984, USC in 1987-88 and Valley College in 1989. He helped San Jose State improve its defense from 499.0 yards allowed per game in 1996 to 404.2 yards last season.

“I’m losing a very quality coach,” Baldwin said. “I call him a teacher. In every situation he’s very calm and cool. . . . I offered him more money than Northridge is going to pay him. That tells you what I think of Ron.

“Northridge made the right choice. They got a great individual.”

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The Matadors were 6-6, 4-4 in the Big Sky Conference last season.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

THE PONCIANO FILE

A look at Northridge’s new head football coach.

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RON PONCIANO

Age: 38

Marital status: Married, one son

High School: Willows

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Bachelor’s: Azusa Pacific, 1983

Master’s: Azusa Pacific, 1987

Playing Experience: NAIA All-American linebacker at Azusa Pacific.

Head Coaching Experience: None

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Assistant Coaching Experience: Asuza Pacific, 1984-87; USC, 1987-88; Siskyous, 1990; Shasta, 1991-92; Missouri Western State, 1993-94; Northridge, 1995-96; San Jose State, 1997


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