Antonio Pierce has won a Super Bowl, but fans of a California powerhouse prep football program are questioning whether he can fill the shoes left by legendary Long Beach (Calif.) Poly High coach Raul Lara.
The Jackrabbits formally introduced Pierce on Thursday as their first hire outside the program since 1971, and according to reports from Gazette Sports and the L.A. Times, members of Poly's alumni committee are skeptical about his lack of coaching experience and commitment to the team.
Pierce played for nearby Paramount (Calif.) High and Mt. San Antonio College before transferring to the University of Arizona and earning a spot on the Washington Redskins as an undrafted free agent in 2001, launching a 10-year NFL career that included a 2006 Pro Bowl selection and the Super Bowl XLII title as a linebacker for the New York Giants. But that resume apparently isn't good enough for some.
According to local media reports, members of the Poly football community questioned the fact he's never coached a game at any level and his desire to continue to serve as an NFL analyst during the season. Pierce downplayed questions about his resume during his introductory press conference, citing his extensive experience running football camps in the area and his diminished role at ESPN.
“I played professional football in New York,” he told reporters after being named the 25th Poly coach in the program's 106-year history, “so you’re going to have to really come with it if you want to get me.”
Lara stepped down this winter after 13 seasons that included 12 of Poly's 40 Moore League titles and five of the school's impressive 19 California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section championships.
The 35-year-old Pierce reportedly beat out 54 other applicants to take over a program that features five-star senior defensive back Iman Marshall. The former Giants linebacker's son DeAndre Pierce was a sophomore DB for a Poly team that finished 11-2 and lost in the Southern Section semifinals this past fall.
“This won’t be a rebuilding process,” athletic director Rob Shock assured the media. “We got the right guy.”
Pierce told reporters he would compile a diverse staff from the school's current assistant coaches, Poly alumni and elsewhere. Gazette Sports is reporting that former Giants teammate Derrick Ward and one-time All-Pro wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh are expected to join the staff.