KINGMAN - What could make a man give up a lucrative and successful career selling cars in Scottsdale and come to Kingman to be an assistant football coach?
"Last November my wife, Jen, and I prayed about my life," said newly named Kingman High football head coach Greg Tonjes. "I'm 47, halfway through my life and want to do nothing but coach football for the rest of my life."
Tonjes promises to bring a new and exciting look to Bulldogs football, but his desire to coach is not about the Xs and Os.
"I want to make an impact with the kids so they know and understand about consequences and integrity," he said. "It's more than just wins and losses. We can't miss this opportunity to be stewards of these kids. We need to invest in them."
That prayerful moment in November came as a result of some serious family struggles the Tonjeses had to endure. Those were severe enough for him to question what he was doing and what was his calling.
After getting a lot of interest from Phoenix-area schools, former KHS coach David Ward got in touch with Tonjes and convinced him to check out Kingman. Once the Tonjeses visited, they knew Kingman was the place to answer that call.
"We came up here and just fell in love," Tonjes said. "We love the area and that it's a small town - Jen is a small-town girl."
Ward had to step down due to family medical issues, and Tonjes has been in town since April. He's been working diligently with the football team, so it wasn't much of a stretch for Kingman High athletic director John Venenga to ask Tonjes to take a step up.
"Greg wants high-quality kids who can play football, and that is exactly want we want," Venenga said. "He wants the city to be involved in all Kingman High athletics."
When it comes to references, it's difficult to find one better than Campbell University head football coach Mike Minter. He had a 10-year NFL career as a starting safety for the Carolina Panthers from 1997-2006. When the Panthers lost Super Bowl XXXVII to the New England Patriots, Minter had a career-high 18 tackles on a broken foot. When he retired, Minter held the Panthers' franchise record for starts (141), consecutive starts (94), fumble recoveries (11) and interceptions returned for touchdowns (4).
Tonjes worked for Minter in Concord, S.C.
"Greg has a heart for God, that is really one of the things that stood out for me about Greg," Minter told the Miner. "He's got a heart for people, particularly young people, and he wants to make people better."
When it came to gaining football knowledge, Minter said Tonjes was like a sponge - absorbing everything he possibly could about the sport.
"When I was building a high school program, Greg wanted to learn," the Fighting Camels coach said. "Every coach needs the want to learn and grow, and he has that. He's got the leadership and the ability to rally people around a cause. His salesmanship will be vital as he takes over and builds a program."
Tonjes said he wants to be a complete coach by leading, mentoring, teaching and by learning. By doing that, he expects to have the greatest possible impact on his players.
He also promises bring a new and exciting offensive package to Kingman football. He's a disciple of Texas Tech former coach Mike Leach and wants to bring what he calls an "air raid" and "fast and furious" offense to the Bulldogs.
"We're going to change the perception about Kingman High," the new coach said. "Since April we've been talking about the playoffs, community and character and how that is going to make us a team."
Minter showed a little pride that one of his protégés has received the extraordinary opportunity to coach young men playing football.
"I'm proud of the fact that Greg has stuck with it, kept at it and is now being rewarded for his hard work," Minter said. "I'm sure he has a lot of gray hairs, and I'm sure he'll get more. I welcome him to the world of high school head coaching."