A fruitful era is coming to an end at Long Beach Poly, as longtime head football coach Raul Lara confirmed Friday that he is resigning.
In 13 years as the head coach of the Jackrabbits, Lara won five CIF-SS titles, more than any other coach in school history. His overall record (142-30) stands as the second-highest win percentage of any coach in Poly’s 106-year history, and second most wins total. His Jackrabbits teams went 74-2 in the Moore League, and he coached 12 of Poly’s 40 Moore League champion squads.
What sets Lara’s coaching tenure apart from great coaches of the past isn’t just that he won more championships, it’s the consistency with which his teams have competed. While assembling a schedule that ranked among the toughest in the state year in and year out, Lara’s teams won over 82% of their games, and made it to the CIF semifinals nine out of 13 years, and the championship game six of those years. His Jackrabbits won at least 10 games in all but three seasons of his tenure.
Those accomplishments were fueled by a desire to be the best, a desire that sometimes made the job an exhausting one. Interviewed prior to last season, Lara admitted that, “I can count every one of our losses, literally, tell you who we lost to and everything about those games. They eat me up.”
Lara never had a job on-campus, and was compensated with the LBUSD’s coaching stipend, while working full-time as a graveyard shift as a probation officer, often leaving straight from games to go to work in Los Angeles County’s Central Juvenile Hall. When asked two years ago why he devoted so much of his life to a coaching job he was barely compensated for, he said it wasn’t really the championships that gave him the most fulfillment.
“They’re great, but to be honest whenever we’d win a championship all I’d feel is a load just come off my back—for a little bit,” he said. “Then they start asking about next year right away.”
Instead, Lara said his greatest joy as a coach at Poly was working with players, and trying to make a positive impact on them. “That’s why Signing Day to me is always the most joyful day,” he said. “That’s the icing on the cake.
Lara played football at Poly for Jim Barnett in the early 1980s, and graduated from Poly in 1984. He went on to play linebacker at UC Santa Barbara, volunteering for a few seasons as an assistant at Poly while doing so. He came back to the school in a permanent way in 1992, eventually taking the head coaching job in 2001 after Jerry Jaso stepped down. He was part of the coaching staff for eight of Poly’s 19 CIF titles, and saw 31 Jackrabbits he helped coach make it to the NFL in those 22 years.
As a player, assistant and head coach, Lara has spent nearly three decades at Poly. In his time as head coach, he had both his younger brother Carlos and his son Emmanuel on his Jackrabbits teams. The Poly administration will have a hard time finding a replacement for a coach who was the third-longest tenured in school history. Since 1980, Poly has been coached by Barnett, Jaso (with co-coach Thomas Whiting for his first nine seasons), and Lara.
Despite his stellar record, Lara was at times derided by Poly fans for not being successful enough, a standard he acknowledged as essentially impossible to achieve. He’s maintained steadfastly throughout his career that the chatter from the stands rolls off his back, however, because he’s stayed focused on his players.
“It’s great that we won championships, and it’s great that I have a good winning percentage and all that,” he said. “But my thing is my relationship with the players and what they think of me. I think that’s the most important thing for me.”
Coach Lara is addressing the Jackrabbits football team on Friday afternoon to inform them of his decision. We’ll have an updated story with his thoughts, and perspectives from former players and colleagues, later this evening.