High Schools: Brinkley's legacy tangible

It can be more difficult to put a legacy of one-quarter century into words than into one room.

This was largely true Saturday night, when Newport Harbor High football coach Jeff Brinkley was celebrated by colleagues, former players, parents and community members for his momentous 25 seasons as the Sailors head coach.

Nearly 250 came to the Balboa Pavilion to share memories and their appreciation for a special coach whose historic impact goes beyond his 208-90-3 record that includes the program's only three CIF Southern Section championships (1994, 1999 and 2005).

Laughter, camaraderie, respect, reflection and music extended well into the evening and a handful of players and coaching colleagues shared their thoughts about Brinkley from the microphone on stage.

Mike White, a former head coach of the Oakland Raiders, Cal and Illinois, who was also an assistant for the 1999 Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams, spoke of working with Brinkley as an assistant coach in 1989, when White's son was an all-league receiver for the Tars.

He praised Brinkley for his commitment to the school, mentioning many opportunities Brinkley had to take other coaching positions at the college level.

White delighted the crowd by recalling his involvement with the program, which has extended over the years with frequent consultations with Brinkley.

"It was the greatest impact on my life," White said. "If all the jobs I've had and the situations I've been in, my relationship with Newport Harbor football means more to me than any other experience, and that includes the Super Bowl win and the Rose Bowls."

Longtime assistant Tony Ciarelli and longtime Sailors freshman coach Joe Urban spoke of their admiration for Brinkley, with whom both are close friends.

Former players Chris Maderino, Tom Eaton, Jeff Williams and Gregg Williams also took the opportunity to extend their gratitude and congratulations to Brinkley.

Eaton delivered an emotional account of a particularly memorable pep talk Brinkley gave during the 1994 team's 14-0 season that culminated in the section Division V crown.

Gregg Williams, the quarterback on the 1992 team that defeated Corona del Mar in the Battle of the Bay II CIF Division IV semifinal game that led to the program's first appearance in a CIF final in 50 years, spoke of Brinkley's humor as well as his ability to convey life lessons.

The 2011 Sailors also made an appearance and a couple players spoke, vowing to turn things around after an 0-2 start, the worst during Brinkley's tenure.

And, finally, Brinkley himself took the stage, expressing his appreciation for, and his lack of comfort with, the kind words showered upon him.

"I told my wife [Laura] that I wish this was just a party for the program, because I'd feel a lot more comfortable," Brinkley said. "I don't feel that comfortable when it's about me, because it's really not about me. It's about the program. The program comes first. Newport Harbor football is something special and we've got to maintain the tradition of this thing."

Brinkley spoke of the solid foundation created by his coaching predecessors, Bill Pizzica (1974-78) and Mike Giddings (1982-85), and, as usual, delivered praise to the many assistant coaches, including several former Sailors players, who have helped him forge such success.

Brinkley also noted the atypical amount of support from boosters and community members, something that has drawn envy from his fellow prep coaches.

"We've got this great deal going on and it's very special," Brinkley said. "Sometimes when you're not around another program, you don't' quite realize how special it is."

He also thanked his family for their support, before ultimately focusing on the dozens of former players in attendance.

"It's great to see these guys," Brinkley said. "I'm so proud of them. To be honest, the greatest thing about the whole deal is the friendships.

"Twenty-five years have gone very fast. There's a picture of me over there with brown hair. Now, all of a sudden, it's white. "I heard a military guy once who said guys will fight their tails off for you if they are afraid of you. But if they love you, they'll go right to the end … We truly do care about them and we want them to be the best they can be."

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