Horizon head girls basketball coach Vickie Carrington and her husband and assistant coach, former Charger Darren Carrington, coach their team from the sidelines against La Jolla Country Day Jan. 25, 2013.
Together they devise game plans, pore over film and roam sidelines. Together they celebrate wins and mourn losses.
Together they stand. In games, that can be a problem.
Vickie Carrington coaches the girls basketball team at Horizon Christian Academy. So does Darren Carrington, another former athlete who keeps his wife, quite literally, on her toes.
“I have to tell him to sit down all the time,” Vickie said, “because only one coach is allowed to stand up. It’s always a battle. I’m about to sit down all the time because he’s always standing.”
Said daughter and freshman guard DiJonai Carrington: “My dad does most of the talking with the refs, so sometimes they get confused about who’s the head coach.”
That would be Vickie, who took over at Horizon in 2002. Since then, the ex-track standout has molded the Panthers into one of the area’s top programs, winning a San Diego Section title in 2011 and sending dozens of players on to college careers. At 16-6 this winter, the Panthers are poised to make yet another deep playoff run.
Darren joined Vickie on the varsity team in 2003. For the former NFL safety, it was the perfect excuse to continue coaching their oldest daughter, DiArra, now a junior guard at the University of New Orleans. As an assistant for the Horizon football team, he’s also coached their son and Oregon commit, Darren Jr.
“I think it’s cool to have the opportunity to be in their lives in that way,” said Darren Sr., who played four seasons with the San Diego Chargers. “I love it.”
Darren met Vickie nearly three decades ago, when both of them were attending Northern Arizona University. He was a walk-on football player; she was a sprinter and competitive bodybuilder. They’d both played high school basketball.
They married in 1993. Five years later, after Darren had retired from the NFL, they teamed up for the first time as a coaching duo, working with sprinters on the Kearny High track team.
“It was a great time,” said Darren, a marriage and family pastor at The Rock Church in Point Loma. “Any time you can give back to younger people, it’s a blessing. And it’s always more than sports. It’s about life. Us being able to share the things we learned, experiences and challenges we’ve overcome, we give them tips to put into their repertoire when they face challenges.”
Vickie went on to coach junior high sports, including basketball, at Maranatha Christian Schools.
“I loved it a lot,” she said. “Maybe two years into that, I was like, ‘I really want to coach older kids.’ We had a middle school program, but I wanted to be around high school kids, just for the ministry reasons.”
That led to a job at Horizon, which at the time was struggling on the court.
“I remember them having three wins and 19 losses, and one win and 22 losses,” Vickie said, “and that always broke my heart. I knew they always had good athletes, but they didn’t always have that competitive nature.”
The Carringtons did. They embraced the game’s grittier details, with Vickie pushing conditioning and Darren preaching defense. Blowout defeats disappeared as the Panthers grew into playoff contenders and, eventually, champions.
Two seasons ago, when the Panthers won their first section title in more than a decade, it wasn’t just Vickie and Darren celebrating after a convincing victory over Life Christian at USD’s Jenny Craig Pavilion.
DiArra, who was coming off an injury-shortened season at Southwestern College in Chula Vista, was an assistant coach, working beside both parents. DiJonai, then in seventh grade, was the team’s play-by-play announcer. Later that afternoon, Darren Jr. scored seven points as Horizon’s boys team joined the girls as section champions.
“To see us rise up and have my family still be a part of that was amazing,” Vickie said. “It was like we did this together. When you coach it’s a major sacrifice, major time away from your home. It’s awesome that we’re together.”
DiJonai is experiencing that closeness this winter, in her first full season playing for both parents.
“I’m getting used to it now,” said DiJonai, who averages nearly 20 points per game and has already drawn interest from major colleges. “It wasn’t bad, but it was tough having to switch from them being my parents to being my coaches.
“Sometimes, during a game, I’m like, ‘Mom, Dad.’ And they’re like, ‘Coach.’”
There’s only one head coach, though. Even if her assistant happens to have played in two Super Bowls.
“I never get any grief,” Darren said. “The only thing is people get a laugh that I’m the assistant coach. ‘Oh, your wife? That’s cool. Hey, how’s that work out?’”
“It works out great.”