Jewish Academy’s CFO gets down to business as new varsity football coach


San Diego Jewish Academy earlier this year tapped Skip Carpowich, its CFO and chief operating officer, to coach its varsity football team.

Carpowich’s finance background includes more than 20 years at the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology. His coaching background includes helping launch Torrey Pines’ Pop Warner program and a season as a Lions varsity assistant coach last year.

His choice as varsity football coach may seem incongruous. But to hear him tell it, Carpowich, who envisioned coaching at the end of his career, the opportunity to practice both crafts simultaneously is a perfect fit.

“Here I am at a school as a (CFO and COO) where at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I can go out and put on some football gear and be out on the field and be at the school and doing something that benefits the school, that lets me connect with the students and families,” he said.

“Being both at the executive level and being a coach, it’s a dream come true.”

Carpowich is by all accounts pulling out all the stops to help the Lions contend, bringing in some high-profile former NFL and collegiate players to mentor specific position groups including Quinn Early, a former Chargers receiver (and current Cathedral Catholic assistant coach) and former San Diego State quarterback Billy Blanton. He’s also brought in rugby coaching experts to teach tackling techniques that college programs are implementing under new rules designed to prevent head injuries.

Carpowich has also tried to create a sense of history, bringing back former players to share war stories and create a network that players can turn to.

He also plans to use the middle school’s flag football program as a feeder program, teaching fundamentals that Lions players haven’t had going into their varsity program.

Varsity players will mentor some of the middle school players, Carpowich said, adding that he wants his players to be role models.

“Not just with respect to football, but with respect to life skills,” he said. “We really want to create a program and not only compete for a championship, but have the type of characteristics and values that really embodies the entire school.”

Carpowich has had limited contact with his players aside from a handful of voluntary summer practices and spring workouts, but the early returns suggest he’s already gotten some buy-in.

“He’s the right guy for the job in the sense that he wants to create a better team,” said former Lions head coach and current volunteer coach Joseph Gurfinkiel. “He wants to develop that program.”

Carpowich faces some tough challenges.

He takes over a program that’s looking to rebound from an 0-4-1 2014 season, when the Lions returned to eight-man football competing as an independent after five years playing 11-man for five years (they’d been an eight program for the previous eight years since the program’s 2002 inaugural). He’s the fifth coach the team has had since 2010.

This year, they’ll compete in the newly formed Coastal League Ocean, a five-team division for eight-man teams. They’re part of an eight-man renaissance in San Diego County, which just reinstituted a Division VI for eight-man teams who, for the first time in years, will compete for a sanctioned championship. The division for now consists of 11 or so teams playing in two leagues.

Carpowich admits he was skeptical about the eight-man game at first, but the more he became exposed to it, the more he grew to like it. Now he’s a believer.

“The eight-man game is really exciting,” Carpowich said. “The field is 40 yards wide instead of the standard 53, but it kind of opens up the game a little bit, even though the field is a little narrower, because you have fewer players and you can spread out.”

And the Lions plan to take full advantage of that extra space this season. They’ll run a pro-style spread offense led by junior quarterback Jordan Battaglia, a three-sport athlete who is among the basketball team’s best players and a college prospect in baseball.

“We’re going to run a spread offense out of the shotgun to take advantage of his (Battaglia’s) ability to read the field, throw the ball and run the ball,” Carpowich said.

But the spread offense may not be around for long. All high school programs, to varying degrees, must adjust their game plan to the type of personnel they have, but the challenge is exponentially greater at smaller schools who have fewer players to choose from. SDJA’s high school enrollment is about 180.

“At Torrey Pines, you have the program and you adapt the players to that offense — they run the (Delaware) wing-T,” Gurfinkiel said. “With us, it’s the opposite. We have to adapt to the players, because most of them don’t have the knowledge to be able to run that offense, or we don’t have the personnel to run that offense.

“We have to be able to adjust, year in and year out, and I’m sure being a first-year coach it’s going to be tough, but I believe he’s (Carpowich) the right guy to lead the program to success. He has great leadership, and he’s just a great guy overall.”