Prep football coaches’ friendly rivalry begins tonight

Every Friday around 5 p.m. Rory Rosenbach and Kai Smalley talk on the phone. The two high school football coaches discuss upcoming games, as well as what’s new and exciting in their lives.

That trend will continue today, even though the longtime friends — and former co-workers — will be on the same field.

Albeit on opposite sidelines.

Rosenbach and his Glacier Peak Grizzlies take on Smalley, in his first year as head coach of the Snohomish Panthers, for the second annual clash between crosstown rivals at 7 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Snohomish.

“We have a standing 5 o’clock phone call Friday nights,” Smalley said. “Even last week, before my first (game) at Snohomish, he sent me a text saying I better answer my phone. … He won’t let it break. I won’t. Even if we’re about 100 yards from each other, I’ll make the phone call. It’s in my schedule Friday nights.”

The duo met in 2004 while both were on staff at Thurston High School in Springfield, Ore. Rosenbach was the offensive coordinator. Smalley coached the defensive line and helped chart for the defensive coordinator. The two spent a lot of time in the coaches’ box and became friends. When Rosenbach left a year later to take the head-coaching job at Marist High School in nearby Eugene, Ore., he invited Smalley to come along and serve as his defensive coordinator.

“He was really green,” Rosenbach said. “He had been coaching maybe one or two years. But I just had a good feeling. He had a good feel for the game and was willing to do the work.”

The two coached together at Marist for three seasons, culminating in a 4A Oregon state championship in 2007.

“He was great to work with,” Smalley said. “I don’t know if we ever really butted heads, to be honest. It was pretty easy going between the two of us. He’s an easy-going guy. He was very fun to work with. Good to learn under. Maybe the biggest time we ever butted heads was when he said I had to take the first-string defense out and I wasn’t ready to.”

The pair just missed playing together at the University of Oregon. Rosenbach graduated in the spring of 1998, right before Smalley came to the school in the fall.

Rosenbach’s Marist staff was made up almost entirely of former Oregon players and coaches.

After the championship season, the Marist coaching staff disbanded, with Rosenbach heading north to start the program at Glacier Peak, and Smalley taking a coordinator’s position at a high school in Utah.

“After the 2007 season when I left, that was when the band broke up,” Rosenbach said. “Everybody left. There was almost no one at Marist that was there the year before.”

Rosenbach built a successful program with the Grizzlies, while Smalley was a coordinator for two seasons before landing the head-coaching job at Park City High School in Utah. The pair kept in touch and talked frequently about their respective football teams. Rosenbach visited Smalley a few times, traveling to Utah to attend camps and to help Smalley during his first couple practices at Park City.

“He was at a camp in Colorado and came out to Utah for my son’s baptism,” Smalley said. “We timed it perfectly to where he was able to make it to my first couple practices as a coach in Utah. Even when I just started out, he was out there with me.”

“We stayed in touch, obviously, the last six years,” Rosenbach said. “We always talked about different things. There were times when we’d have a playoff game and I’d say ‘Take a look at this film and tell me what you think.’ And he’d give another perspective. … Usually it was just trying to one-up each other. We’d say, ‘Check out this play I ran this week.’”

Smalley stepped down as head coach of Park City after the 2012 season to spend more time with his family.

Then Rosenbach called.

A twist of fate — a rare opening for the head-coaching job at Snohomish High School — brought the two friends together again.

“He was the reason I applied for (the Snohomish job),” Smalley said. “He talked me into it. I wasn’t interested in being a head coach. I had just resigned from being a head coach at Park City to spend time with my family.”

Smalley said he had hoped to coach on the same field as Rosenbach again, but always assumed it would be on the same sideline.

“He and I had always talked about getting back together and coaching again. But that was being on the same staff, not being on the field across from him,” Smalley said.

Added Rosenbach: “Never did I think he’d be the coach of the Snohomish Panthers, my alma mater.”

Rosenbach has been getting Smalley up to speed on the rich history of the Panthers’ program, and wants to see his friend — and former team — succeed.

Just not tonight.

“I tell him every day he has a very important and impressive mantle to carry,” Rosenbach said. “He’s got a big job and I remind him of that. I’m sure he doesn’t need me to remind him. It’s important to me that he does well. I’d like to see him do well.

“I like to see the Panthers be successful. That’s my school. I hope they go 8-1 every year.”

Smalley, too, roots for Glacier Peak most of the season. Talking to Rosenbach the past few years, Smalley became a Grizzlies fan.

“In my opinion, there’s no point for me not to want them to win,” Smalley said. “They’re 3A, we’re 4A. There’s not going to be a playoff game between us. For the last four years, I’ve been rooting for Glacier Peak. For me to come in now and not root for them, it would probably come across as a more bitter rivalry, but it’s not like that. I’ve spent time around his kids and they’re good kids. They’re respectful kids and they work hard. Just like our guys do.

“I’d love to see them win every week except this week.”

Rosenbach and the Grizzlies are coming off a gritty 24-20 win over Lake Stevens. Smalley and the Panthers are trying to bounce back from a 38-20 loss to Oak Harbor.

“To me, the most important thing is this game is about the kids and the community,” Rosenbach said. “It’s not about he and I. It’s about the guys and the community. Kai and I have a great relationship and it’s going to be a lot of fun, but this game’s going to be about the kids that bust their butt out there every day.”

The coaches don’t have a wager on the game, but the 5 o’clock phone call isn’t likely to be their only cell-phone exchange of the today.

“I’m sure after the game one of us will get a text from the other, but that’s what next year’s for,” Smalley said. “To get back at it.”

Snohomish vs. Glacier Peak

Where: Snohomish Veterans Memorial Stadium

When: Today, 7 p.m.

Breakdown: It’s rivalry week in Snohomish as the cross-town rival Panthers and Grizzlies do battle in the second Dick Armstrong Memorial Cup. The Panthers have revenge on the mind after the Grizzlies manhandled them 43-7 a year ago. In its first game running new coach Kai Smalley’s spread offense, Snohomish had mixed results. The defense, though, couldn’t handle Oak Harbor, giving up 220 yards rushing to Dejon Devroe and 38 points to the Wildcats. Glacier Peak was impressive in a 24-20 win over Lake Stevens. First-year quarterback Branson Corwin was solid behind center and Spencer Petit booted a 52-yard field goal, the longest in GP history.

Radio: KKXA, 1520


Twitter: @heraldnetpreps

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