Jeff Scurran has been a cabana boy at Miami Beach and a ski coach at Lake Tahoe.
He sat on the bench for the Florida Gators, an undersized, non-scholarship quarterback who made grades and wanted more out of life than football. He wanted to be a lawyer.
He worked at the Double JJ Resort dude ranch in Rothbury, Michigan, where he met a University of Michigan coed, Joan Williamson. The courtship didn’t take long; they were engaged on their first date. Years married: 47.
He is one of two sons of Sam and Sue Scurran; his father, a medic in World War II, was raised by a World War I Russian soldier. Sam later became the president of the Boys Apparel Club of Florida, often hitting the road to make a living.
Jeff’s mother, an Ohio State grad, always had food in the fridge and a welcome mat on the front porch. Her Midwestern values included the expectations of a good education and well-mannered behavior. Her sons paid attention.
Jeff describes his brother, Barry Scurran, as “the smartest guy in the room.” He is the physician-in-chief for Kaiser Permanente in the Bay Area.
In 1972, while working on a master’s degree at Georgia State, Scurran was intrigued by the reputation of the UA’s counseling department. He moved to Tucson, completed his advanced degree, got a job running a student dormitory and became an intern in coach Bob Weber’s football office.
A coach was born.
But none of that upbringing begins to explain how Scurran has coached 13 Tucson football teams to the state’s “Final Four” — more than double any coach in modern Tucson history —including Friday’s 4A semifinal against Gilbert Higley High School.
Scurran began coaching Catalina Foothills four years ago. The Falcons were coming off an 0-10 season. They have since gone 33-12.
But is that any more impressive than what he did at Santa Rita? Scurran took over another team that had gone 0-10. He coached them to a 34-7 record and two state championship games.
Or does it surpass Scurran’s coaching job at Sabino? The Sabercats went 127-26-1, won three state championships and reached the so-called “Final Four” nine times in 11 years.
Is there a football coach in Arizona history, beyond ASU’s Frank Kush, who can top that?
Scurran does not tip his hand. All he’ll say is that no job was more difficult than coaching at Pima College, a program he invented in 2001. He delivered 26 victories in four seasons, including triumphs over the nation’s No. 1 junior college team and a bowl victory in his final game.
There is no tidy way to put Scurran’s career in perspective. He is 216-55-1 as a Tucson prep coach, trailing only Amphitheater coach Vern Friedli’s 288 victories in this city. No one else has more than 171.
Detractors often say Scurran has an edge because he has “all the talent.” But that theory was blown up first at PCC, then at Santa Rita and now at Catalina Foothills.
“Foothills isn’t a football school and never has been,” he says. “But our chess team and our debate teams will kick your butt. Our band is sensational.”
The intrigue of Scurran’s coaching career is that he was humbled long before he started the climb toward 295 total career victories, which includes a year in Italy.
This is humble: After earning his master’s degree at Arizona, Scurran was hired to a graduate assistant’s job for the Nevada Wolf Pack. Everybody on Jerry Scattini’s staff was fired. Scurran remembers being “just a piece of the furniture.”
This is cold: Scurran began coaching in the Feather River League for Truckee High School on the California-Nevada border. You can still Google a photograph of Scurran coaching for the Wolverines in a 1973 game against Colfax. He’s the young coach with an inch of snow on his hat.
Scurran traded snow for rain. He coached at Wahtonka and West Linn high schools in Oregon, turning a Wahtonka team on an 18-game losing streak to one that went 9-2. By 1983, coaching in the Portland suburbs at West Linn, Scurran welcomed former Arizona assistant coach Gary Bernardi to his office; Bernardi stopped at the school to recruit three of Scurran’s players.
They talked about Tucson. Scurran liked the sound of sunshine. Ultimately, Scurran phoned an old friend, former TUSD athletic director Jerry Davitch and inquired about the coaching vacancy at Sabino.
Davitch instead recommended the recently-opened job at Canyon del Oro. Bingo.
From 1984-86, Scurran coached the Dorados to a 22-10 record but clashed with the administration, or vice versa.
“I was always an outsider at CDO,” he says. “It was a locked circle and I was locked out.”
After one year as an assistant at Flowing Wells, Scurran was hired at Sabino. He opened 3-7. The next 11 years he went 124-19-1.
He left the Sabercats, he says, because he got bored. That’s the exact word he uses.
“There were not enough of ‘those games,’” he says. “Those games you approach with nervous trepidation. Not fear, but with a healthy respect.”
Friday’s game in Gilbert against Higley is one of “those games.” It is the first time Foothills has ever advanced to the state semifinals. It will be the 13th time Scurran has felt the accompanying nervous trepidation.
It is a long way from the Feather River League and Miami Beach.