On the first day of football practices this past August, Mark Perry looked out on the football field at Snohomish Veterans Memorial Stadium on a bright sunny morning and reflected on his time at Snohomish and the stability he and former coach Dick Armstrong had brought to the football program.
“Between my 18 years as head coach and the 32 by Dick (Armstrong) that’s 50 years with just two guys at the helm of one program,” Perry said on that day. “That doesn’t happen very often.”
Next week Snohomish begins a search for its third head coach in 51 years.
After a rough 2012 campaign, Perry submitted his resignation as the Panthers head football coach last week, citing that the past two years have been difficult on him, according to Snohomish School District athletic director Mark Albertine. The Panthers went 6-14 over the past two seasons, including 2-8 this past season that included a 43-7 loss to crosstown rival Glacier Peak.
“It’s been 30 years now and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” said Perry late Tuesday night after helping as an assistant coach on the Snohomish wrestling team. “It’s just time to look at doing other things in life.”
The decision wasn’t just hard on Perry.
“This is not easy on anybody,” said Albertine, who worked hand-in-hand with Perry for most of his 18 years as head coach. “The first words you think of when you hear Mark Perry is he’s a man of character and integrity and those are things he instilled in his players. Those are wonderful traits in a human being.”
Albertine said Perry will remain in his role as athletic supervisor at Snohomish High School and could still be a part of the Panthers football coaching staff in the future.
“That’s going to be his choice whether or not he still wants to be involved, but he is still very valued,” Albertine said of Perry.
Perry may be most remembered for helping a young man gain a very special moment on the gridiron.
In 2010, Perry gave Ike Ditzenberger, a special needs student at Snohomish and a member of the Panthers football team, the chance to score a touchdown, which he did in a loss to Lake Stevens. It was a moment that inspired many nationwide and produced a viral video that now has close to 3 million hits on YouTube.
“To be able to help Ike do something that not every kid gets the chance to do was special,” Perry said.
Perry, who finished 105-77 as Snohomish head coach, not only had to overcome replacing a legend in Armstrong, but had to shepherd the Panthers through a time when the school district was split in half, causing Snohomish to lose a number of talented players to new high school Glacier Peak.
And while Perry, who was an assistant under Armstrong for 11 seasons, seemed to take up right where his mentor left off, overcoming the departure of so many athletes to GP was much more difficult. Perry guided Snohomish to a record of 34-18 with four winning seasons prior to Glacier Peak’s opening, but fell to 18-32 over the next five with only one winning season: 2008, the year Glacier Peak opened. In that same time period, Glacier Peak went 37-15.
Glacier Peak head coach Rory Rosenbach, who played under Perry when he was an assistant at Snohomish, said he has the utmost respect for the former Snohomish coach.
“I respect him as a man and a coach as much as any man I know,” Rosenbach said via text message Tuesday night. “He taught me a lot about how to coach this game and how to treat young men.”
Though the past five years were tough, Perry’s highlights as Snohomish coach include a state semifinal appearance in 1998 and an undefeated regular season in 2000.
But for Perry the things he is most proud of are off the field. One of them is his coaching staff, which is the same six guys he started with from Day 1.
“There was a lot of camaraderie and friendships that were built during that time,” Perry said. “Not a lot of coaching staffs get to stay together like that.”
Perry also was sure to mention the kids and families that impacted his life.
“Over a 30-year career I’ve met some great kids and great families,” Perry said. “Those are special kids and the relationships I built with those families over my career I’ll never forget.
“There are so many kids that matured into great young men, and even if they weren’t on the straight and narrow back then, they’ll come back and say ‘You made a difference when I was a student.’ That means a lot now.”
Albertine said the Panthers head coaching job will be posted next week and that he expects there to be a strong set of applicants for the job.
“I would picture this as an attractive position,” Albertine said.
As for what the school seeks in a new head coach, Albertine was clear.
“We’ll be looking for someone who is going to have a high level of energy and enthusiasm,” Albertine said. “They will also have an excellent background and knowledge of the game of football and is going to teach kids to be a winner on the field as well as in the classroom and in life.”
It’s no secret that there is pressure on the head football coach at Snohomish, which won a pair of state titles in 1976 and 1978 under Armstrong’s guidance. Perry talked about that pressure before the season, making the distinction that people can be forgiving if you lose with less talented teams, but less forgiving if you have the talent and still lose.
“The people here know football, but they’re fair,” Perry said. “If you lose games and you have a talented roster they’ll hold you accountable.”