Abrams’ coaching career comes full circle in tonight’s 4A title game

Jackson High School has had just two head football coaches in its 18-year history and both will be coaching in the Timberwolves’ Wesco 4A championship game tonight.

But only one will be wearing Jackson’s black and green. The other now prefers black and orange.

Dick Abrams, the first coach in Jackson football history, and Joel Vincent, who took over when Abrams left, face each other for the second time this season when Abrams’ Bearcats (4-4) take on Vincent’s Timberwolves (7-1) to decide the Wesco 4A champion and No. 1 seed into next week’s quad-district playoffs.

“You always think about it a little bit. I always really enjoyed my years at Jackson. It was kind of cool being part of the first staff there,” Abrams said. “Joel Vincent was one of my assistant coaches. … I have a definite good feeling about those guys. They’ve done a great job.”

For a look back at the prep football season so far, click here.

Said Vincent: “There have been two coaches in Jackson history — him and me.”

Abrams coached at Jackson for four years. When he left, Vincent took over and helped the Timberwolves get to the state playoffs three times (2003, 2008 and 2009).

“Dick’s a friend of mine,” said Vincent, who coached cornerbacks and defensive backs when Abrams was at Jackson. “We’re still good friends to this day. That gives it a little bit of an interesting angle for us. It just kind of adds something to the game. There’s a lot of respect going into that game.”

Jackson was Abrams’ first head-coaching job. He left Jackson in 1998 and made stops as a head coach at Marysville Pilchuck, Stanwood and Port Angeles before becoming an assistant at Monroe in 2010 for Dave Telford.

When Telford left prior to the 2011 season, Abrams was Monroe athletic director Brett Wille’s first choice to fill the vacancy.

“We had three finalists and they were all quality coaches,” Wille said. “He stood out. He was kind of the clear choice. He was the guy that we needed in that point in our program for development.”

Monroe football was in the midst of a tough decade. When Abrams became the Bearcats’ fourth head coach in 10 years, he took over a program that hadn’t been to the playoffs since Monroe was a Class 2A school.

Now Monroe is in the playoffs for the second consecutive season after winning the Wesco North championship, its first league title since 1991.

“It’s been a long time since the program has experienced this amount of success,” Willie said.

Abrams turned things around by stressing the positives, building his players up and convincing them they could win.

“I think our kids have really worked hard in the program that we brought,” Abrams said. “We had some good kids there when Dave was there. It was just a matter of changing that culture of losing, which had been there for so long. It’s not something you do right away. But if the kids believe in what you’re doing, you have a good chance to turn things around.”

Abrams said he’s been to so many schools, he realizes it’s the kids who play the game. He said he just tries to get them as prepared as he can, and tries to put them in the best opportunity to succeed.

Which is the favorite of his coaching stops? The Monroe coach’s answer wasn’t surprising.

“Right now, Monroe’s my favorite school,” he said. “There’s different things you enjoy about the schools that you’re at. All of them have a special place in my memory. Everyone is special that I’ve been at because the kids were special and the teams were special. I’m fortunate to have had all of them.”

Meanwhile, Vincent used what he learned from Abrams to help Jackson become a perennial Wesco South contender. He said several aspects of his coaching style come from Abrams, who he called a “mentor.”

“He’s always very organized. Practice was very organized,” Vincent said. “That was always nice. Everybody knew what they were supposed to accomplish. It was something that I tried to adopt when I became a head coach.”

The two have faced each other on several occasions, including once already this season. Jackson beat Monroe 41-26 in both teams’ season opener on Aug. 31.

Abrams said the first meeting was so long ago that both teams are different now, and he said the game should be a lot closer the second time around.

“It’s a long season,” he said. “Things change so much during the season. The memories of the first game are kind of just that, memories. You’ll probably see two different teams play this Friday night.”

Vincent agrees that the game will be different from the first showdown. When teams play a rematch during the season, he said, it favors the team that lost the initial game. The Jackson coach said his team needs to stop Monroe’s ground game, while the Bearcats will look to slow down the Timberwolves’ potent aerial attack.

“I expect it to be a well-played game on both sides,” Vincent said. “I think the kids know what’s at stake. I think they’re going to step it up a notch on their end. This is for seeding and bragging rights between the (Wesco) North and the South.

“The kids are amped up. There are contrasting styles. A Wesco title and No. 1 seeding on the line. I think it’s got all the ingredients to be a pretty exciting game.”

1976-78 Grad asst. at Central Washington Univ.

1979-84 Asst. coach at Kamiakin H.S.

1984-88 Asst. coach at Ferris H.S., Lewis and Clark H.S

1988-94 Asst. coach at Cascade H.S. (under Terry Ennis)

1994-98 First-ever head coach at Jackson H.S.

1998-2002 Head coach Marysville-Pilchuck H.S.

2002-2009 Head coach Stanwood H.S.

2009-2010 Head coach Port Angeles H.S.

2010-2011 Asst. coach Monroe H.S.

2011-Present Head coach Monroe H.S.

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