Finding a long-term replacement for legendary football coach Vern Friedli, the winner of a state-record 331 games, is no simple task for Amphitheater High School.

Jorge Mendivil is up for the challenge.

Mendivil, who spent eight years building Empire into a small-school power, now finds himself in control of one of the most storied and historic programs in the state, just two years after Friedli, a member of the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame, retired. The district’s Governing Board approved Mendivil’s hire on Tuesday evening.

Mendivil met with his team for the first time Thursday afternoon.

“From what I’ve seen, he’s done a great job,” said Friedli, who spent 36 seasons with the Panthers and was one of eight members of the school’s interview committee that helped select Mendivil. “He’s very well-prepared and has his stuff together pretty well.”

Brandon Willard coached the Panthers for two seasons following Friedli’s departure, a fact that takes some of the pressure off Mendivil.

Amphi athletic director Armando Soto knew how difficult an act it was for Willard to follow Friedli while the dust was still settling from his departure. Now that everything has calmed down and the Panthers are coming off a 5-5 season, the stage is set for Mendivil to keep the ball rolling and return Amphi to dominance.

“It’s a goal for every coach to come into a program and establish dominance and put their personality and character on it,” Mendivil said. “But to do that at Amphi just adds to it — the fact that they’ve been there and they’ve done that.”

Mendivil, who spent last season as an assistant at Walden Grove, knows plenty about winning and making the playoffs. Not counting his first two seasons at Empire, Mendivil went 40-18 and led the Ravens to the postseason five straight seasons. Before that, Mendivil went 34-19 and had four trips to the playoffs in five seasons at San Manuel.

“We know he’s going to make us a way better team, so coming into my last year I want to be successful,” said junior Dante Anderson, who scored 15 total touchdowns for the Panthers last fall. “We have strong leaders coming back so they’ll bring the team up and we’ll be successful.”

Mendivil, 41, has been in coaching for 18 years at all the different levels. He wants to keep Friedli a part of the Amphi program and is hoping this can be his last stop, somewhere he can lay down his roots. Mendivil doesn’t know if he can be with the Panthers as long as Friedli was, but he’s planning on staying around as long as he enjoys it.

“I don’t know if we’re going to get another 36 years,” Soto said. “It sure would be nice.”

Ex-Badgers coach dies

Tony Morales, who coached the Tucson High boys basketball team to state titles in 1962 and 1969, died last Friday in San Diego. He was 89. Before coaching the Badgers for 16 years, Morales was a four-year letterman in football, basketball and baseball at Douglas High.

He later went on to become an All-American baseball player at the UA and was a star with the Tucson Cowboys.

Cotton hits milestone

Palo Verde grad Bryce Cotton became just the second player from Providence to be named to the All-Big East first team twice when he received the honor Sunday for the second year in a row. The 6-foot-1-inch guard averaged 21.7 points a game and leads the nation in minutes played with 40.1. Cotton and the Friars will face Seton Hall today in the semifinals of the Big East tournament at 4 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.

Clark again All-Ivy

For the third straight year, Tucson High grad and Harvard senior captain Christine Clark was named a first-team All-Ivy League selection. The 5-11 guard, who was also an All-Rookie selection as a freshman, led the conference with 16.8 points a game and scored 20 or more in 11 games this season.

Clark and the Crimson (21-7) will find out their NCAA tournament fate Monday afternoon.

Contact high school sports coordinator Daniel Gaona at or 807-7761. On Twitter @DanielGaona13