Golla hired as Independence football coach

As an off-season coaching carousel continues to turn, one of the biggest names in Kern County high school football has found a new landing spot.

Paul Golla, who led Bakersfield High to the 2013 CIF State Division-I championship before spending the last five years at Garces Memorial High School, was hired as the next football coach at Independence on Thursday morning.

Golla replaces Tyler Schilhabel, who coached the Falcons the past six seasons, coming to a familiar campus where one of Golla's best friends and former assistants, Sean McKeown, was hired as the school’s first football coach in 2009. McKeown moved on a few years later and was teaching at Stockdale when he died of pancreatic cancer last year at 48.

“It’s an exciting opportunity,” Golla said. “I’ve always kind of watched them since one of my best friends Sean McKeown took the job, and he always talked so highly about the school. And then Tyler and the great teams he produced. It’s just a great opportunity for me to get back into my retirement, where I have 20 years in and I have the opportunity to coach and be involved in really, a great school, with great potential.”

Golla spent 14 years at BHS, posting a 128-50 record with five Central Section championships and the state crown.

He moved to Garces in 2019, and although the win-loss record of 22-27 wasn’t what he had hoped, Golla is proud of the accomplishments the Rams made the past five years.

“Looking at the coaching record at Garces, it’s probably not impressive, but the things that we did … We played some unbelievable teams,” Golla said of one of the toughest schedules among area teams each year. “Los Alamitos had the No. 1 quarterback in the nation and we played the No. 1 running back at Division-I champ San Diego-Lincoln. I think we had one of the highest rankings in the school’s history during the (five) years we were there. We just got put into that Division-I bracket and we weren’t quite at that level yet. I think if we were D-II we could have really competed and had a chance to maybe win a championship.”

During his tenure, Garces played in its first Division-I playoff game in program history, playing in three straight D-I postseason games, and posted the team’s first win over a TRAC opponent with a season-opening 28-7 victory over Clovis West in 2021.

The following year, the Rams nearly won their first D-I playoff game when they built a 20-0 lead at Clovis, but the Cougars rallied for a 21-20 victory.

“We just kind of fell short in the playoffs, but we did some good things,” Golla said. “There were a lot of positives that came out of it. I am going to miss those kids, I truly am. It’s family. It’s a small school, people are tight. I’m going to miss the teaching staff. It really is a cool place, but at this point it’s going to be a new experience and a new opportunity.”

Golla met with his former team Thursday morning, a meeting that was filled with plenty of strong emotions.

“It was unbelievably hard,” Golla said. “They’ve done everything we’ve asked, the lifting, the running … It helped bond that relationship and they’re like family, they really are. We’re around each other all the time. It’s hard. It’s one of the hardest things that you ever do. I’ve done that a couple of times and it doesn’t get any easier.”

Now Golla inherits a team that has had its share of success. The Falcons were 4-7 last season, but the program is just three years removed from a Southern California Regional 5-AA championship and a runner-up finish in the state title game with a 20-14 loss at San Marin.

Golla is scheduled to be welcomed to his new school with a meet-and-greet on Thursday afternoon, giving him the first chance to introduce himself to his new players.

“It’s exciting,” Golla said. “They’ve had some success there. I think it’s a place that can have some success. I don’t really talk about wins, but the process, and I can’t wait to get started because we feel like we have a great plan.”