Sahuaro football coach Howard Breinig made the state playoffs in 11 of his 12 years there.

Linda Seeger / Tucson Citizen

Over the next seven days, the Star will reveal our picks for Tucson’s best high school football coaches of all time. Our countdown continues today with Howard Breinig, who turned Sahuaro to a postseason regular.

No. 7: Howard Breinig

School: Sahuaro and Rincon/University

Years in coaching: 1976-78 and 1983-94

Career record: 118-53-5

Achievements: Breinig had a disappointing three years at Rincon/University, where the Rangers went 8-19. He was relieved of his duties in March 1979 after head-butting a player. But the man who had aspired to be a head coach since his days as a player at the UA received a second chance at Sahuaro and he didn’t waste any time making his mark with the Cougars. Sahuaro was not a playoff regular until he took over. After his retirement in 1994, the school had made the playoffs in 11 of his 12 seasons in charge. And of those 12 seasons, only three times did the Cougars fail to make it past the first round.

Breinig reached the semifinals six times and won more than 10 games four times, including a 13-1 record in 1991. Even after Breinig retired, he remained on the sidelines as a lower-level and varsity assistant at Sabino until health problems forced him to step down after last season.

Memorable moment: After three previous trips to the state finals proved unsuccessful for Breinig and the Cougars, losing by at least 17 points in each game, his final game in charge of Sahuaro was as perfect as it could get – even though his team still technically didn’t win the big one.

After a dramatic rally in the waning minutes of the Class 4A state championship game in 1994 knotted the score at 17 apiece, the eventual tie with Peoria felt as good as any win possibly could, as both teams were awarded the state title. “I can die now,” Breinig told Greg Hansen after the game. “This makes it all worth it.” With less than 90 seconds remaining, backup quarterback Aaron Dumsch used his legs for both the touchdown and the tying two-point conversion to give the longtime coach a perfect ending, as he had announced his retirement as head coach earlier that year.

From the archives: “When he took over (Sahuaro in 1983), there was not much. He’s turned them around and has made Sahuaro a great program.” – Vern Friedli, Amphitheater’s legendary head coach who was classmates with Breinig in 1959 at the UA, in Oct. 26, 1990, Arizona Daily Star.

Big number: 1. Starting with a 28-0 win against Canyon del Oro in Week 4 of the 1987 season, Sahuaro lost just one regular season game over the next 4½ years under Breinig. During the stretch, the Cougars won 46 of their 47 regular season matchups until a rough 0-3 start in 1992 ended the nearly perfect mark. The one team to best Breinig and Sahuaro during the improbable run? Friedli’s 1990 Amphi squad, which went on to lose in the 5A state title game that year after beating Sahuaro 35-16 on the road in Week 8.

Coming up: Find out who is ranked No. 6 in Tuesday’s Star.

Kyle Johnson