J.R. Tolver has stepped down as football coach at Sage Hill School for personal and professional reasons.

J.R. Tolver has stepped down as football coach at Sage Hill School for personal and professional reasons. (SCOTT SMELTZER, Daily Pilot / August 15, 2014)

  • Related
  • Tom Kirchmeyer is Sage Hill School's interim football coach this season. Photo: Tom Kirchmeyer is Sage Hill School's interim football coach this season.
  • Topics
  • Football
  • California Interscholastic Federation
  • Larry Fitzgerald

J.R. Tolver and Tom Kirchmeyer met five years ago while working as doubles during a commercial for the popular Madden NFL video game.

Tolver, a former NFL wide receiver, played Larry Fitzgerald, and Kirchmeyer, a former junior college quarterback, stood in for Kurt Warner. Kirchmeyer completed a pass to Tolver in the commercial.

Shortly after, the two hooked up again, not for an NFL video game, this time to coach the high school game. When Tolver became the Sage Hill School football coach in 2009, he brought on Kirchmeyer as an assistant.

This year, their roles have drastically changed with the Lightning. Tolver is no longer in charge, and Kirchmeyer takes over as Sage Hill's interim coach.

Tolver said he stepped down after five seasons with the Lightning because of personal and professional reasons. Tolver informed his team about his plans on Thursday.

Tolver's last day with the Lightning was Friday. In two weeks, on Aug. 29, Sage Hill kicks off the season at home against Santa Ana Calvary Chapel.

"It was a very tough decision, especially based on the timing," said Tolver, who had recently become the school's director of student athlete development after serving as the boys' athletic director. "If I could have and the circumstances were different, I wanted to stay through the football season. Due to some professional and business related choices, I felt that now was the best time for me and my family to move on.

"The new role [as the director of student athlete development] is great for the school, great for the program and great for the kids, but it's not the best role for me."

Sage Hill turns to Kirchmeyer, a former quarterback at El Toro High and Fullerton College, to lead the program. While Kirchmeyer has served as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach during his time on Tolver's staff, the head-coaching job on the high school level is a first for him.

The quick transition to a new head coach isn't ideal with the opener just around the corner, but Megan Cid, who became the Sage Hill boys' and girls' athletic director last month, said she respects and understands Tolver's decision.

"[Tolver stepping down] was unexpected, definitely a surprise," said Cid, who praised Tolver's work during his stint as the football coach and boys' athletic director. "I think any time a coach leaves it's hard on the players and it was emotional for them. I think the timing is what made it more difficult on them. But we are very, very excited about Tom Kirchmeyer. The kids love Tom."

Cid said the rest of Tolver's staff is staying. Kirchmeyer is excited about the job, calling it a "dream come true." He turns 31 on Nov. 1, the same day Sage Hill plays at Downey Calvary Chapel.

The team brings back starting quarterback CJ McCord, who as a junior placed second in the high jump at the CIF State track and field championships in June.

On the football field, McCord and Sage Hill weren't as successful last year, and injuries played a role. Sage Hill is coming off a 5-6 season, its third straight losing campaign, and a CIF Southern Section East Valley Division playoff appearance, its first since 2010.

Under Tolver, Sage Hill produced two winning seasons, coming in his first two years, and compiled a 23-30 overall record and 7-9 mark in the Academy League. The team failed to win a league title, finishing runner-up twice, third twice and last once. The last-place finish came two years ago, when Sage Hill went 0-10 for the first time in the private school's history.

During one stretch, Sage Hill lost a school-worst 13 straight games, before ending the skid last season with a 38-7 triumph at home against Fairmont Prep. The team went on two win four more games, half of those coming in the final two regular-season games, helping Sage Hill earn an at-large postseason berth.

Tolver guided the Lightning to the playoffs three times, never out of the first round. Sage Hill lost at fourth-seeded Upland Western Christian, 55-35, in last year's playoff opener, which turned out to be Tolver's final game as Sage Hill's coach.

"Today is my last day, and I'd be lying to you if there hasn't been multiple occasions since I made my decision this week that I've had tears running down my face," said the 34-year-old Tolver, who brought some stability to Sage Hill, where before he arrived the school's previous two coaches lasted only one season. "My life has been in four- and five-year blocks, four in high school [playing at San Diego Mira Mesa], five in college [playing at San Diego State], five playing professionally [in the NFL and Arena Football League], and 5 1/2 years at Sage Hill. It's the end of a chapter and it's time to start a new one.

"I think [Kirchmeyer] is phenomenal. I like to surround myself with people that cover my weaknesses. As a leader, you're not going to know everything, but you can plug people into areas where you're weak. He does a great job calling plays, breaking down film, and with strategy. He will put you in position to win games. I'm excited for him and it's a great opportunity for him to take the next step in his life."