Last fall, Salpointe Catholic football coach Dennis Bene put together one of the best seasons Tucson has ever seen, going 14-0 to claim the program’s first state title.

A year before that, Ironwood Ridge coach Matt Johnson knocked off a pair of Phoenix-area powers twice to win the Division II state championship and finish 13-1.

Both coaches took a different path to get to the top, but they have one thing in common: Both are among the best in Tucson prep football history.

After taking a look back last summer at the best football players to come from Southern Arizona, we’re shifting the spotlight to the leaders on the sidelines or in the skyboxes.

Today officially kicks off the countdown to the high school football season as we rank Tucson’s top 25 football coaches of all time over the next 3ƒ weeks.

Bene? Check.

Johnson? Check.

That leaves room for 23 others on the list. Who else made our cut?

Over the last several weeks, fellow Star reporters Chuck Constantino, Jason Harris, Kyle Johnson and I have spent time digging into our archives and record books to see who we felt belonged in the conversation.

We also consulted with columnist Greg Hansen for his unrivaled knowledge to help with the rankings along with copy editor Bill Betterton, a longtime Tucson resident who previously spent 15 years as a high school sports correspondent for the Star.

Every day through Aug. 3, we will reveal the next coach in our countdown. We begin today with Gary Minor, who turned Ironwood Ridge from the new kids on the block to one of the local powers.

Producing our list was not easy, but I am more than satisfied with what we have produced.

There are obvious names such as Ollie Mayfield, Jeff Scurran and Howard Breinig. Perhaps longtime Flowing Wells coach Larry Hart is also on our list for leading the Caballeros to the state finals six times and winning the 4A championship in 1975.

Then there’s Sunnyside coach Richard Sanchez; he didn’t do too bad in his 18 seasons with the Blue Devils, right? And who could forget the legendary Vern Friedli, who amassed 288 wins in his 36 seasons at Amphitheater and finished with a state-record 331 victories. Although I feel we have these coaches ranked right, I know not everyone will agree. That’s why I would like to encourage you to chime in online

and let us know each day what you think. Did we rank a coach too low, too high or flat out leave someone off?

Either way, it’s a win-win situation because the best way to count down to the football season is by talking about football, so let’s hope the next 43 days can help get everyone in the mood for Friday Night Lights.

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