On Wednesday night, the Liberty Union High School District school board confirmed what many had thought to be the case since former Liberty High head football coach Ryan Partridge announced he was leaving to become an assistant coach at Ferris State University, promoting Partridge's close friend Matt Hoefs to become the Lions' new head coach.
Hoefs, who has previous head coaching experience at Arroyo and Dublin, will also teaching physical education on the downtown Brentwood campus, but his biggest task will be filling the large shoes left behind by Partridge, who went 34-5 in his three years since coming over from Livermore, including BVAL, NCS and CIF titles in his tenure.
"Priority number one is to complete the staff, and then we can hit the ground running," Hoefs said. "We have some time to re-group now as a staff, especially with the number of coaches we need to replace from last season."
Hoefs was already going to be Liberty's defensive coordinator had Partridge stayed, as Brian Reel had previously announced that he was taking time off for his young family, after serving in that role since 2012. Hoefs must find an offensive coordinator, a role which Partridge held himself as head coach, and a special teams coordinator, after Ryan Huddleston also decided to take a break from the sidelines. Offensive line is another area which must be filled, after Rod Beaver hung up his whistle following a tenure which spanned four decades.
Aside from the staff, all eyes will be on who Hoefs will decide on behind center. Sophomore Jaden Rashada was thought to be the heir apparent to current Oregon freshman Jay Butterfield, but he is now at IMG Academy, a move that was announced the same day as Partridge announced his move. The two most likely prospects there include junior Hunter Steacker, who has returned to Liberty after spending his sophomore year at De La Salle, and sophomore Nate Bell, whose older brother Brenden was a dual-sport standout for the Lions. Steacker's eligibility remains to be seen, since he transferred from Liberty to De La Salle as a sophomore.
"Both Hunter and Nate will get an equal shot. They are both great athletes, so I won't be surprised to see both of them on the field, regardless of who is starting at quarterback,: Hoefs said. "You can't blame Jaden for taking his opportunity. It was a great chance for him to go there."
In his previous opportunities as a head coach, Hoefs demonstrated the ability to win with presumably lesser talent. In 2016, his one season at Arroyo, he led the Dons to a 4-6 campaign, which was one more win than the previous three seasons on the San Lorenzo campus. The next season, he led Dublin to a playoff victory over California. His hiring at Liberty brought praise from former players.
"Coach Hoefs is the right guy to take over the program," tweeted former Dublin quarterback Jack Sweeney.
Partridge also chimed in with praise after the news became public.
"He's the right man for the job, and the right coach for the kids," Partridge stated.
Aside from completing his staff, Hoefs plans on taking the delay to his advantage, building his playbook and outlining the expectations for the culture of the program over the next five months. The big goal, like it is for many programs, is to find a way to help get his athletes back in the classroom and on the field.
Whether the season starts on December 14 as planned remains to be seen, but judging from the reaction from those around the Liberty program, the Lions are in good hands if it does.