(Tumater, WA) Every year there are multiple coach openings in all sports but sometime when a position opens it draws a little more attention. This is the case in Tumwater where legendary and the State’s all-time winningest football Coach Sid Otton made it official and stepped down following their recently concluded season. This of course was not a surprise, nor was it a situation where the talent stream had dried up.

The T-Birds finished the season 10-2 losing in the quarterfinals to the eventual State Champions ArchBishop Murphy. Tumwater will graduate a good group of seniors but there are many ready to take their place which normally would have the Head Coach excited and already planning for next season. For the 1st time in 49 years Coach Otton will not be concerned about reviewing film and looking for weaknesses and taking inventory on positions, instead he is retired from the game at the age of 72 with 6 State Championships, 27 trips to State, numerous league titles and got to coach both of his sons and 2 grandsons and coach with his oldest son. That is quite a career and now there is a hole at the top of the coaching tree for the 1st time in Tumwater Football since 1974.

Pat Alexander, Sid Otton, Steve Shoun (photo by Jamie Dowers)
Pat Alexander, Sid Otton, Steve Shoun (photo by Jamie Dowers)

The position has been officially posted and we were told already there are 7 applicants. We talked with Tumwater AD Tim Graham who says the position will remain open until at least January 15. Graham says he wants to keep it open that long to allow a retirement ceremony for Coach Otton and 2 of his longtime assistants Pat Alexander and Steve Shoun to take place scheduled for Saturday, January 14th. Graham says the last thing he wants is for the ceremony to be overwhelmed by speculation of the next coach.

It is surprising to some that so many would want to step in the huge shoes Coach Otton is leaving behind. The legacy of this program will continue to live. Graham says 5 of the assistant coaches are here and they are on the staff. Graham reminds people who think a new coach means a new regime with tons of changes. That’s true at the college and pro level but folks this is High School and no, there won’t be huge changes to the program.

Former Players lining the sideline one last time with Coach Otton
Former Players lining the sideline one last time with Coach Otton

This position, whoever gets it, will be under heavy observation from an extremely active alumni. Former players of Coach Otton don’t want to see the program changed, it took 43 years to get here and there isn’t a lot of call from anyone to make sweeping changes. Evidence of this was prior to the Washougal crossover game there were 200+ former players who attended the game for one last chance to be on the field with Coach. These guys came from all over the country and on short notice. This position is far different from those openings where failure was the reason for change. This program has not failed the new coach is the one that will have to learn the T-Bird way.

So who is it that will step in to such a position? There doesn’t appear to be anyone on the current staff that wants or has the opportunity to take it over. Someone close to retiring is unlikely to be interested and if so you have to wonder if Tumwater is interested in hiring someone they will have to replace in the next 5 years. Someone who thinks they are going to make sweeping changes, do things a new way likely will have a hard time getting past the interview committee. Someone looking to stop off for a few years and has their eyes on moving up like to the college level will not be an attractive hire for this position.

The candidate will have to understand it is they who need to conform, it is they that has to have the need to be the 4th Head T-Bird Football Coach in school history and wants that title for a long run, maybe not 43 years but certainly someone looking to set down roots. It is they who must understand they are not being hired as the Head Coach of a Football team, they are being hired to head up the T-Bird Football family. And there are literally generations of family members with players of Coach having their sons play for him and I wouldn’t be surprised if a 3rd generation snuck in there somewhere.

Yes, this will be a difficult job to step into not because of the success of the team but due to the success of the family. All are welcome to join the family and the best example is defensive coach Rick McGrath who began his coaching career with Hazen High school, yes the Hazen that beat the highly favored T-Birds in 1991. McGrath later took a job at Tumwater and quickly became a family member. You will never see him end any social media message without the phrase “Bleed Green”.

If indeed the new coach comes in from outside the family he will be quickly indoctrinated and green blood will quickly flow through his veins. This is the position that is open and some may be motivated by that kind of situation and no doubt the pressure that will come with it. Others may want nothing to do with stepping into such a high profile position and both are understandable.

If you think I may be overstating this well the words of Tumwater Superintendent John Bash who wrote a piece for a series ESN did on Coach Otton’s Tumwater career should serve warning to those who want this position that some things will not be in your control. Here is the portion that Dr Bash wrote about the future of the program:

“As the program faces a major milestone with the departure of these three coaches, many are asking what the future holds.  As school and district leaders work to answer that question, lessons learned from these three outstanding coaches will be important to keep in mind.  All three of these men demonstrated a true commitment to more than just football.  They understood the significant impact they could have on the lives of the young men they served and were very successful in creating a program that genuinely focused on lifelong outcomes – not just wins and losses.

The assistant coaches I interviewed deeply appreciated Sid Otton’s delegation of responsibility for their respective roles and his faith in them was a source of motivation and loyalty that he engendered.  Sid also routinely listened to and incorporated strategies and ideas from all coaches into his final decisions.  The great coaches that remain in the program will become an essential link between the past and the future as this transition occurs and the inclusive leadership culture Sid has created will be important to maintain.

Because of the unity and inspiration created by the program, former T-Bird players are serving as youth coaches and volunteers where coordination of the development of players and the program are routine and systematic.  This community-wide approach must be nurtured and supported as the program moves forward.”

That’s a pretty clear mandate from the top man. Graham says once the job listing is closed in mid-January they will work quickly to hire a new Coach. Graham says it’s important to get the new Coach in place as soon as possible to give him the best chance to assimilate and review where the program is at this point in time and where it needs to be by Spring ball in June. It is not easy to say goodbye to a legend who meant as much to so many as Coach Otton, Alexander and Shoun did but it is even more difficult to replace them. Graham hopes to announce the new coach by the end of January.

No doubt Tumwater “Winning Football” is turning a page and it may not hit home to many until they can’t find the gentle giant roaming the sidelines next September. Hopefully Tumwater fans will quickly accept the new coach and let him lay his own foundation and earn his own legacy within the T-Bird family.


By paulb

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