(Tumwater, WA) This is the story of the greatest High School Football Coach in Washington State history. That is a mighty claim we just made and no doubt our target disagrees with our assessment but he would be wrong and during this series of stories it will become obvious.
As these stories unfold it is not meant to be a commentary but there will be times where the writers, all of whom played or coached for Otton will not be able to keep their personal experiences out of the telling of this incredible story. So get set and here we go….
No great leader can be this successful on his own and Sid Otton has had tremendous assistant coaches throughout his 48-years of head coaching. At Tumwater one of the secrets to his success was maintaining a loyal coaching staff that took ownership of their area.
Two of those assistants are so loyal they are also stepping down with Otton at the conclusion of this season. Pat Alexander joined Otton in 1976 and has been his defensive coordinator since, missing only one season after his son Kelly “Kip” Alexander graduated in 1983. Alexander committed to Otton to stay as long as Otton wanted too but admitted he has been a little surprised it has lasted this long.
The other long time assistant stepping down at the end the season is Steve Shoun. Shoun has coached the defensive backs mainly since 1982. Shoun came in during a time of the rare high coaching turnover Otton experienced during his tenure but has been a mainstay for last 34 years. When Shoun came aboard there were several coaching changes during this time but it wasn’t for negative reasons, several assistants were taking head coaching jobs. Karst Brandsma was the offensive coordinator during Tumwater’s 1st State Play-off victory and took the head job at Peninsula. He was there for several years before giving the job over to his former quarterback of that winning team Dale Cote. Brandsma left coaching to get into school administration and is the current South Kitsap schools Superintendent. In a side note, Cote took the same path and now is in school administration for the Lake Washington school district.
Mike McLaughlin was next who had a short stop in Tumwater taking over for Brandsma. McLaughlin was only there for the 1981 season before accepting the Head Coaching job at Mead High School in Spokane where he stayed from 1982-1996 before taking over the brand new program at Mt Spokane. McLaughlin retired from coaching in 2014 after finishing 8-3 and getting to the State Play-offs at Mt Spokane.
Other coaches that either played or coached under Otton who went on to take head coaching jobs include Bill Beattie the Olympia head coach for the past 22 seasons and Shelton’s Matt Hinkle who has led the Highclimbers for 21 years. So despite a lot of movement at the time these coaches have earned their own long-term legacy and no doubt have all learned valuable lessons from their time with Otton.
The current coaching staff of long-time assistants have truly stayed together for decades. Some positions have been added but the core of this staff hasn’t changed in 20+ years. Jamie Weeks, Rob Hinkle, Rick McGrath, Tony Prentice, Tim Otton along with Alexander and Shoun have all been a steady presence in this truly remarkable program.
The Early Years
Sid Otton began his coaching career at Coupeville. This after his football playing career came to an end by getting released from the Dallas Cowboys after finishing his college playing days at Weber State. In 1966 Otton stayed on at Weber State as a Grad assistant where he was bitten by the coaching bug. Otton then accepted the head coaching job at Coupeville. It was there 2 questions would be answered for himself. Could a relatively quiet and mild mannered man be the leader of a football team and would High School Football be his destiny?
Remember this was the era of Vince Lombardi. A hard line approach was the key to success, or at least it was believed so. Otton’s style was cemented from the beginning, he would go against the grain and focus on the positive. He would focus on building a feeling of family and community and everyone willing to sacrifice for the cause was welcome to be part of the team.
The next question would be answered after his 1st 2 seasons as a head coach. Was being a head coach more important than climbing the ladder of coaching into the college and perhaps pro ranks? Otton told us that question wouldn’t be answered until he experienced it and so after 2 seasons at Coupeville where he went 3-6 and 2-5, maybe it was easy to choose to give the next level a shot so he went back to school at Utah State as a 2nd stint of being a Grad Assistant.
It was that experience that more than convinced him he was not interested in coaching at the college level. Otton says it was not as if he didn’t like his time coaching at the college level but he knew in his heart he needed to be the one calling the shots and he wanted to run “his” program so he headed back to Washington state where he took the Head Coaching job at Colfax, a rural farming community just north of Pullman.
At Colfax Otton installed his style and it had an immediate impact. The Bulldogs responded to the big quiet man who always led with without yelling and screaming, kicking the dirt or humiliating a player. But no one should mistake this as Otton being some kind of push-over.
When you screwed up and you felt that huge arm wrap-around your shoulder and that massive paw of a hand patting your arm he would talk with you in tone that was firm but only at a level you could hear and by the time you were done you felt like running through a brick wall for this man. He is simply a great communicator and knows how to get his point across without the histrionics that some believe is necessary to get through to a player.
Otton’s Colfax team responded with a 7-2 season, his first winning season as a Head Coach. In 1971 Otton would win his 1st State Championship with the Bulldogs going 9-0. In those years there were no play-offs only the A-P poll and Colfax was voted #1 in the 1A poll.
Otton would then drop to 5-4 in 1972 but come back on with a 7-2 season in 1973. He finished with a 28-8 run at Colfax with a State Championship and a League Title.
When Otton came to Colfax he and his wife Marjean with son Tim they quickly made friends with Bob and Ruth Bafus. Bob was the head basketball coach at Colfax and he and Sid quickly made a deal, each would be assistant coaches for each other.
ESN talked with Bafus who is still in Colfax retired after a long career as the Bulldogs head Basketball coach which began in 1969 ending in 1997 after a 4-year hiatus in the mid-80’s. Bafus racked up 2 State Titles including a start to finish undefeated season in 1977-78 going 26-0. He won his 2nd in 79 going 25-1 and then took 4th in 1980 going 25-1 posting an eye-popping 76-2 record over that 3-year run.
Bafus’s style was flamboyant, loud, booming and intense. Bafus said Otton was a great counter to his (at times) overwhelming personality. On the flip side, Otton told us that he is not always opposed to a coach giving an impassioned speech or one-on-one with a player or group of players, that’s just not him. He said that when the team needed maybe a kick in the rear he would turn to Bafus who had no problem letting his feelings be known.
Bafus said although he was older and more experienced than Otton that Otton taught him some important life lessons and the biggest was to make sure you get the kid back after a “harsh verbal reminder”. Bafus then changed his approach, no he didn’t stop jumping on players for messing up, but he came back at them with the same intensity with a positive message when they did it correctly or made a great play.
Bafus says Otton showed him the importance of kids and players trusting you that you will always be in their corner when all is said and done. Bafus said Otton was huge in his effort to turn around the Bulldogs hoop team and they made their first trip to the State Tourney in 1972 and then in 73 they returned with their 1st State trophy a 4th place finish. Bafus says Otton’s influence early on certainly had an impact on his program and for that was eternally grateful.
Bafus said however, he is more grateful for the lifetime friendship his family has had with the Otton’s. Otton’s 2nd son Bradley was born in Colfax. Bafus, known for somewhat of a practical joker, also relayed his favorite Otton story. Bafus called it “the Chicken” story. He told us something that not many people know about Coach Otton and that is he thought he could be a chicken farmer.
Bafus said maybe it was from living in an agricultural community and he felt he needed to do some kind of farming so he chose chickens. Bafus says after a night of the families together the Otton’s headed home. When they arrived the scene was apparently something out of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre with chicken bodies all over. Bafus remembers the Otton’s had a medium sized white dog and he apparently went on a killing spree.
Bafus recalls out of the 40 or 50 chickens the Otton’s had 14 or so meet their maker from the dog. What happened next was he got a call from Sid the next day asking if they wanted any chicken. Apparently Otton went ahead and finished the job the dog started and they had an abundant amount of chicken. Bafus said that also ended Otton’s “farming” career.
The Colfax experience for Otton certainly opened the door for him to other opportunities. One that never materialized was a shot at the collegiate level. Otton says there was never an opportunity to take over a college program, he just didn’t have the experience. He also had decided that he didn’t want to be an assistant coach again.
This did open the door to move up in the High School ranks and although he ended up in Tumwater it wasn’t the only opportunity but for T-Bird fans, thankfully this is where he landed.
Rough Start in Tumwater
Otton was hired to take over the Tumwater football program in 1974. When he arrived Tumwater was still a relatively new school. Tumwater opened their doors in 1961. Chuck Loete was the 1st Head Coach and would go on to be the Athletic Director and was part of the team that eventually hired Otton. Under Loete the T-Birds were 28-44 with 2 winning seasons going 7-2 in 1963 and 6-3 in 1964. Loete stepped down after the 1968 season and Rip Johnson took over. Johnson went a combined 16-29 during his 5-year run with 1 winning season of 5-4 in 1972.
So Otton took the reins of a team with a combined 44-73 record with 3 winning seasons. Otton had hoped he could turn things around quickly like he did in Colfax but it was quite the opposite. Otton’s 1st season saw the T-Birds finish 4-5, matching the record from the season before. 1975 things got worse as they dropped to 2-7. 1976 was a big year for the country as we celebrated the Bi-Centennial, the 200th birthday of the United States. It also marked the arrival of Pat Alexander who was hired from Mt Si High school as Tumwater’s new Activities Director.
Alexander met with Otton and agreed to help Otton for at least 1 season. Even though the nation celebrated all year there was little to celebrate in Tumwater. The school district lost a critical levy vote. It was the last and only time Tumwater failed to pass a levy. This cut the school’s budget and hit hard were the sports programs including budget cuts which meant fewer coaches.
Tumwater would finish with Otton’s worst year in his career going 1-8. After 3 season’s Otton’s T-Birds were 7-20 and a school district with a levy loss. Otton was frustrated and was questioning whether or not moving to Tumwater was the right decision. He was losing and now he had no idea of what would happen if the levy were to fail a 2nd time. There were far more questions than answers.
On top of it, there was pressure from parents on school administrators to make a change. This new coach with his positive attitude was “babying” the players who clearly needed a kick in the butt. This “soft” touch style of coaching was failing and a change needed to be made.
To Stay or Go
Most T-Bird fans will now think this next part is just all made up but this is absolutely true. In the Spring of 1977 Sid Otton pursued other jobs and was ready to leave Tumwater. He was considered by 2 schools, Sunnyside and Oak Harbor and a 3rd showed interest. Otton had the perfect excuse for failure at Tumwater and that was the community didn’t support it’s schools. He could easily show how successful he could be at a district where the community valued their schools, after all he had a State Title in his back pocket from Colfax.
It was a true crossroads for Otton with pressure from the Booster Club and parents and not being able to even post a winning season. We asked Bafus if Otton ever called him during this time for advice or at least to vent some frustration. Bafus said nope and Bafus added it would not have been in Sid’s character to have done so. Bafus said Otton knew he could call him any time and he’d do anything for Sid. It was during this time that Colfax basketball under Bafus was starting to make their incredible run.
Bafus said he knew Sid was struggling but also knew his strength and character and he knew that Otton would simply get back to work, he’d block out all the noise and start grinding away at what needed to be done.
Back in Tumwater, Alexander was considering whether or not he would return to coach with Otton as well. They both had questions about their own jobs if indeed Tumwater failed another levy. Otton did not get offered another job at this time and he was given a boost from Athletic Director Chuck Loete who told him to hang in there that he was his coach.
Alexander says it was never a question to coach with Sid, he said he was bought and sold by Otton from day 1, it was all the other “stuff” that made it difficult. Alexander was even approached by some parents asking him to step in and take over the Head Coaching duties. Alexander said that was never going to happen, 1st the job was never open and 2nd and more importantly he had already become an Otton “convert” and his undying loyalty began right then and there and it would never waver.
With all the chaos of 1976, 1977 turned out to be the most important and defining season of Sid Otton’s career. Without the 1977 season there is a very good chance that Otton would not be the most winningest coach in state history and certainly the number of state titles, state appearances and league titles would likely all be different.
Next week our 2nd installment of 10 is all about 1977. This was one of the most crazy season’s and again the most important season ever in Tumwater Football history. We will tell you why and we will have some great contributors from that 1977 team adding their perspective to that critical season in the legacy of Washington State’s greatest High School Football Coach.
Part 2, “1977” will be published next Thursday.