It didn’t take long for John Lee to land back on his feet.
Lee, who was fired from Sacred Heart Cathedral — his alma mater — on Jan. 10, was announced as Riordan’s new football coach on Monday.
“Christmas did come early,” Lee said in a phone conversation with The Examiner on Monday. “After I was let go, I thought I’d take a year or two off, and see what happens. And then this opportunity arose, and it’s like, ‘Wow.’”
Wow indeed. Lee, 46, becomes Riordan’s fourth coach in six years. He succeeds Richard Sweeney, who went 4-17 in two seasons. Asked if he thought the proverbial leash would be a little tighter in trying to turn Riordan into a winning program in the West Catholic Athletic League — by most accounts Northern California’s toughest — Lee gave an emphatic response.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure, and if there is, it’s something I’ve created for myself,” said Lee, who was offered the job on April 29 before accepting the position a day later. “Part of the solution [from a win-loss standpoint] is creating better football players, on and off the field. The two go hand in hand.”
A 1984 SHC graduate, Lee spent the previous 23 years coaching the Irish — the last nine as head coach, when he compiled a 45-50 record. In 2008, Lee helped bring the Irish back into the vaunted WCAL, after a 19-year hiatus from the league. Despite guiding the school to its first and only Central Coast Section championship that season — SHC also lost to rival St. Ignatius in the 2011 Division III title contest at AT&T Park — the school decided to part ways with Lee a little less than four months ago.
“It’s been an incredible roller coaster of emotions, from a low point to now a high,” he said. “It’s been overwhelming at times, but man, I’m happy.”
There’s no doubt Riordan feels the same way, as Lee has shown the ability to turn around a program and make it reach new heights.
“His extensive experience as a coach and educator is representative of his ability to motivate and inspire students at all levels,” Riordan president Joseph Conti said. “I know coach Lee will be a great addition to the Riordan community as a mentor to our young men.”
When the Riordan position became open, Lee put in an application “to see where it would take me.” A day after being offered the job, Lee went to Conti’s office to say he would accept.
“I told Mr. Conti I’d be honored to be Riordan’s new head coach,” Lee said. “You don’t pass up a chance like this.”