It hasn't been easy being on the athletic staff at Clovis West High in Fresno over the last week. The school was stunned from the death of a popular student-athlete and stressed out over the potential possibilities over who would be the new football coach. After two big names dropped out of the running several days earlier, it's been learned that Santa Margarita's Jim Hartigan will take over.

In the midst of a highly-publicized search for a new head football coach, administrators and coaches at Clovis West High in Fresno had to deal with a much more important situation when Trent Thompson, a senior who played on the school's varsity basketball team for three years and also was a member of the volleyball team, was killed in a traffic accident three blocks from school.

Thompson, 18, was in the passenger seat of a car a week ago Thursday when it was slammed on the passenger's side by another vehicle. He was just five weeks short of graduating and was planning to go on a Mormon mission for two years before returning to play basketball at Fresno City College. Thompson was named co-MVP of the Tri-City Athletic Conference after the 2002-03 season and was a second team honoree in the Fresno Bee's circulation area.

"Trent was such a great kid," Clovis West athletic director Karen Sowby told the Fresno Bee. "I don't think he's said a profanity in his life. Why take him away? He had such a bright future ahead."

Despite the obvious grief from such a tragedy, Sowby and principal Carlo Prandini still had to buckle down and finish up their search for the school's head football coaching position. That job came open in March when Ed Lombardi resigned to go back to the Sacramento area. Lombardi, 17-15-2 in three seasons at Clovis West, came to the school from Elk Grove and will be the new head coach at Sheldon of Sacramento, which also is in the Elk Grove school district.

Coaching jobs in the Clovis Unified School District are highly-coveted throughout the state due to higher pay, a lower cost of living in the area, and the almost Texas-like atmosphere of games between the district's four high schools.

Two successful coaches from Northern California who were impressive in interviews were John Beam from Skyline of Oakland and Dave Humphers from Nevada Union of Grass Valley, but both Beam and Humphers removed their names from consideration. Both cited family reasons for not pursuing the jobs further.

At Nevada Union, Humphers became head coach in 1991 when Randy Blankenship left the school for Clovis West. Blankenship led the Golden Eagles for eight seasons and was the 1998 Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year.

After Beam and Humphers made their decisions, it was reported that the two remaining candidates for the open Clovis West job were Steve Silberman, an offensive coordinator at Palomar Junior College and formerly a highly-successful head coach at Vista High in the San Diego Section, and Troy Thomas from Crespi of Encino.

Yet another big-name prep coach who decided to apply, though, was Jim Hartigan from Santa Margarita of Rancho Santa Margarita. And when you can mention you were the high school coach of the 2002 Heisman Trophy winner (Carson Palmer), that causes excitement. Hartigan visited the school on Monday and Tuesday of this week, he had Sowby and Prandini visit with him in Orange County on Wednesday, and by Thursday, apparently, the word was out that Hartigan had been offered and would accept the job.

"He's going to Clovis West," said Santa Margarita sports information coordinator Adrian Peters on Thursday. "He just entered the fray late last week and now he's going to be gone. Our offensive coordinator, Sergio Muniz, also is going to Clovis West, too, so it looks like they might not be doing the Wing-T there as much next season."

Hartigan will probably be officially recommended for the job at the Clovis Unified School Board meeting on Wednesday of next week, so Sowby did not confirm the selection to the Fresno Bee. But Hartigan, 41, told the newspaper: "To coach in a school that's strongly supported by the community and work for such a good administration, this is just a great opportunity I couldn't pass."

At Santa Margarita, meanwhile, administrators didn't wait long to name Hardigan's replacement. According to Peters, defensive coordinator Mike Jacot will take over as interim head coach.

Blankenship, who coached last season at Capistrano Valley of Mission Viejo, also is apparently leaving south Orange County. His new post will reportedly be as the new athletic director at Madera High, which is back in the Fresno area. Blankenship spent two seasons at Fallbrook High in the San Diego Section after leaving Clovis West in 1999, then left that school for one season at Granbury High of Granbury, Texas.

Clovis West's 2003 team will be bolstered with the return of 16 starters, including all 11 on offense, so Hardigan will have a good place to start. In 2004, Clovis West also is scheduled to play De La Salle of Concord, the state's No. 1 team for nine straight seasons and current holders of a 138-game winning streak.

Too bad all the excitement of landing a new head coach this week at Clovis West had to still be dampened by the thoughts of what happened to Trent Thompson last week. Life has a funny way of working sometimes. Horrible events happen and yet other formalities (new jobs, new beginnings) must still go on.

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