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Almost six months after being named the interim football coach at Santa Ynez Valley Union High, Josh McClurg can now drop the “interim” tag from his title.

It’s official: McClurg will be the team’s new head coach.

McClurg, a former standout safety and running back for the Pirates, was approved by the school board on June 5 to be hired as a physical education teacher and take over the school’s football program. He replaces former coach Ken Gruendyke, who retired last December.

“It’s just an honor to be able to follow him,” said McClurg, who was on Gruendyke’s staff as an assistant last season and played under Gruendyke while attending Santa Ynez. “It was an honor to coach with him last year and even more to follow in his footsteps. He’s done such a great job in including alumni and asking them to come back and coach, and that’s something that I want to continue to do. This school has always been a hub of the community.”

Before joining the Pirates staff last year, McClurg spent the previous five seasons as defensive coordinator at Nipomo, where he was also the P.E. department chair and was an assistant coach on the track team for six years.

Santa Ynez athletic director Ken Fredrickson said he was excited to have McClurg in charge.

“Josh brings an unmatched enthusiasm and desire to keep ‘Pirate Pride’ alive and thriving both in the classroom and on the playing field,” the AD said. “Josh is excited to be back home and to be a Pirate, and we couldn’t be more pleased to have him here leading our football program.”

After graduating from Santa Ynez in 1994, McClurg went on to play at Allan Hancock College and Chico State University. He was inducted onto the Santa Ynez Wall of Honor last year.

McClurg, who is looking to bring a more up-tempo attack to the Pirates, will retain most of the assistants from last season’s staff. He will call plays on offense, while Chris Johnson, who was McClurg’s junior varsity coach at Santa Ynez, will continue to run the defense. The Pirates were second in the Los Padres League in team defense last season and first in 2010.

McClurg, who recently guided the team through its two weeks of spring practices, has a busy summer schedule lined up. The team began its summer workouts on Monday and will be attending several 7-on-7 passing drills and linemen competitions throughout the next two months before beginning fall practices in August.

McClurg brought energy to the team this spring, as he wasn’t afraid to mix it up with the players. He sometimes took handoffs during quarterback drills and worked on position techniques with the defensive backs. He said that won’t change.

“I want to be able to do that as long as I can,” he said. “I’ll get out there and do DB drills with them every day in the summertime. It keeps you young.”

willis@syvjournal.com