Chaparral's search for a new football coach is over.
On Friday, the Temecula Valley Unified School District named former defensive coordinator Ryan Tukua as the Pumas' head varsity coach in a release, filling a position vacated when Tom Leach was fired in late January.
"I'm optimistic and excited," the 28-year-old Tukua said. " ... We've got a great support system at Chaparral, great coaches, great administration, a great booster club and -- most importantly -- great kids.
"We're going to work hard and do the best we can."
Most recently, Tukua served as the defensive coordinator under Leach, helping the Pumas win their first CIF Southern Section Inland Division title in 2009 when Chaparral beat Vista Murrieta, 13-7, in the title game.
The Pumas scheduled up -- in a big way -- the following season and lost their first four games of the year to Oceanside, Fresno Central, Corona Centennial and Anaheim Servite. All told, Chaparral went 4-7 in 2010, finished second in the Southwestern League and suffered a first-round playoff loss in their shortest postseason run in Leach's tenure.
Two months later, Principal Gil Compton told Leach he would not be back as the Pumas' head coach, a move that prompted an outpour of support for Leach in a school board meeting and several on-campus student demonstrations. None of it surprised Tukua, he said.
"The kids are passionate and they love Tommy," Tukua said. "He did a lot for Chaparral and you can't blame the kids for that."
On campus since 2005, Tukua -- who has a 10-month old daughter, Summer, with wife Cheryl -- has served the Pumas as a strength and conditioning coach in addition to calling plays on defense and special teams the last two seasons. Tukua, a physical education and health teacher, graduated from Fallbrook in 2000, where he played quarterback, and went on to play linebacker at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.
"He's been with us through thick and thin," Pumas athletic director Mike Rowan said. "He's positive, has a lot of energy and enthusiasm and is a known commodity. The kids know him, so he's going to be able to hit the ground running."
Rowan added: "It's critical for the community to know that we're moving forward. We don't expect to miss a beat and Ryan's the perfect candidate for the job."
Tukua stepped down as the team's defensive coordinator before Leach's dismissal. He decided to apply for the job when he learned the school could not hire an out-of-district coach, Tukua said.
Leach, still a teacher on campus, endorsed Tukua as his successor.
"Chaparral is in great hands," Leach said. "Ryan knows a lot of the talent we have and I know his expectations will be high. I'm pleased and happy for these kids."
As for Leach, he continues to consider both his immediate and long-term future, which include coaching opportunities in both Riverside and Orange counties, as well as taking a hiatus to spend more time with his daughters. He'd even consider working for Tukua if approached, Leach said.
"If he asked, yes ---- but I wouldn't be bummed if he didn't ask," Leach said. "I know that it would be hard (to have a former coach on staff)."
Leach added: "There's lots of things that interest me, and it's good to have choices. ... One of the choices I could make is to spend more time with my daughters, but then again, coaching is in my blood."
Tukua said he was retaining Chaparral's coaching staff for the 2011 season, including offensive coordinator Jon Mitchell. Adding Leach to the staff wasn't out of the question down the road, Tukua said.
"Tommy and I are good friends," Tukua said. "In the future I can see that."
Contact staff writer Jeff Sanders at 951-676-4315, ext. 2629.