When Craig Marcus finished two years as the Mountain Ridge boys basketball coach in spring 2010, he never imagined he would return to the same job a decade later.
Heck, five months ago Verrado head coach Craig Marcus did not envision coaching the Mountain Lions again.
Then Eli Lopez resigned after nine seasons as the Mountain Ridge coach. Still teaching at the North Glendale school, Marcus heard the news the day before the coronavirus canceled the rest of the 2019-20 school year.
He was somewhat intrigued.
“I’m going on my 16th year teaching here. I know most of the kids from my weight training class,” Marcus said. “I spoke with our AD about it. I spoke with Verrado AD Tim Butler and he said, ‘You have to go for it.’”
He applied for the job. In mid-June athletic director Junior Michael hired him as the Mountain Lions’ new (old) head coach.
Marcus’ coaching career had come full circle.
“We wanted somebody who is a staff member, if possible, with head coaching experience, with the ability to cultivate a feeder program, assemble an effective coaching staff capable of growing the program, result, relationship, and process oriented, and most importantly, an individual of high character. We didn’t have to look much further than coach Marcus,” Michael stated in an email.
Michael stated Lopez’s decision to step down was a major loss for the athletic department and his coaching will be missed tremendously. He also said the separation was amicable and Mountain Ridge is very lucky to still have Lopez as a teacher.
Marcus said he and some other former Mountain Ridge basketball coaches regularly got together for lunch.
The decision to come back made more sense for Marcus, since he is entrenched in the Mountain Ridge PE department, his wife now works at Deer Valley High School and their daughter attends nearby Copper Creek Elementary.
That chance to hunker down close to home was the clincher for Marcus, who said he enjoyed his two years at Verrado — though the work to right the Vipers wayward program was painstaking.
“Verrado was awesome to me. Tim Butler, the administration and the kids were awesome,” Marcus said.
Marcus’ 16-9 record in his final season with the Mountain Lions remains the best of his career. His two years at Verrado featured less wins but good memories.
Yet he said the most important years of his coaching career were the seven in between, spent as Mark Wood’s top assistant at Liberty High.
“I’ve learned a lot in my time. I grew a ton in the seven years I was with Mark Wood. I learned how to be a better coach, a better leader and a better mentor ... to be a better person,” Marcus said.
With Mountain Ridge and Liberty in the same region for the next two years, Marcus said he will enter those games coaching against one of his best friends with mixed feelings. However, after two preseason tournament losses to the Lions at Verrado, he will not mind another shot at Wood’s squad.
These two teams may also look like mirror images, since Wood and Marcus helped develop Liberty’s style of full-court pressing, rotating 10 or more players and shooting a bunch of threes.
Another name for it is Relentless Basketball, a club that counts Marcus as its CEO.
“The vision for the program is to make measurable progress and be competitive at the 6A level on a regular basis. Coach Marcus will help achieve that goal utilizing his experience coaching at different levels, including running his own club team,” Michael stated. “Being on campus, teaching in our physical education department, will also be beneficial to meeting the overall vision of our school.”
Through his weight training class, Marcus had the opportunity to meet and work with many of Lopez’s players last year.
Now he has a second chance to write a truly unique story.
“I had known coach Marcus’s history since I had arrived at Ridge, and his long journey to return to a head coaching position. Getting him back at Ridge as our boys head coach seems to be a great fit for all parties involve. I’m very excited to see what he will do with the program,” Michael stated.
Like other coaches hired during the pandemic, Marcus has not had really any face-to-face interaction with his new team. He said he sent them an introductory video and led some Zoom chats. Every day, he send players basketball drills and strength training regimens.
Mountain Ridge planned a basketball camp for July 6, but it was moved back twice, then canceled. Like most of his coaching peers Marcus is chomping at the bit to get back.
But he admits he has a unique opportunity. After 10 years away, what’s another couple of months?
“It’s a cool opportunity to get another chance to build a program I helped start. From the outside looking in, you might think it’s weird, but it’s not. It’s neat to have that opportunity,” Marcus said.