Football programs in the North Sound Conference have seen a lot of changes over the past several years.
A trio of schools — Granite Falls, South Whidbey and Sultan — all moved from Class 2A to 1A. The Cascade Conference, which all six North Sound schools were members of at some point since the 2013-14 school year, disbanded and Cedar Park Christian, Coupeville, Granite Falls, King’s, South Whidbey and Sultan came together to form the all-1A North Sound Conference, which created a change in expectations for programs that were struggling to compete with the Cascade Conference’s larger schools.
But perhaps the biggest and most constant change has been on the sidelines, where coaches are entering and exiting programs faster than a new season’s incoming freshman class.
This season there will be five head coaches in the conference who have spent three or fewer consecutive years with their programs, with four coaches being in their first or second seasons at the helm. Yet all five of those coaches have either matched, or are one season from matching, the tenures of their predecessors.
“How do you as a kid get excited about playing football when you have a new system to learn every year?” Coupeville athletics director Willie Smith said. “It’s tough.”
Excluding King’s coach Jim Shapiro, who is in his 23rd year with the Knights, the average current coaching tenure for North Sound schools is 1.8 seasons.
Here’s how the tenures for the other five schools break down: First-year coach Rick Rudd is Sultan’s fourth coach in five seasons; first-year coach Manase Hopoi is Cedar Park Christian’s third coach in four seasons; second-year Granite Falls coach Brandon Davis is the Tigers’ fourth coach in seven seasons; second-year Coupeville coach Marcus Carr is the Wolves’ fifth coach in 10 seasons; and third-year South Whidbey coach Mark Hodson, who also led the program from 2001-2013, is the program’s third coach over the past six seasons.
By comparison, 10 of the 19 coaches at local 3A and 4A schools have spent at least four seasons with their programs, and five of the nine coaches with tenures shorter than four seasons have taken over for coaches who spent at least five years with a team.
So why are these recent coaching stints at the area’s smaller schools so short?
There isn’t a definitive answer, but local athletics directors pointed to some common themes.
“I think the biggest change in coaching is that we’ve had to hire off-campus coaches,” Smith said. “So what you’re really relying on is coaches to be in a business … or have an owner that is willing to allow them to coach and take time off. Football is fairly intensive in the time you have to spend coaching — any sport really — but especially football. That’s been really hard to get that person and find that person, for us at least.”
More off-campus hires may be due to less teachers coaching.
“Back in the day, I think coaches in general were teachers in the school and they stayed there for a long period of time,” South Whidbey athletics director Paul Lagerstedt said. “I think nowadays, and I’m talking about all coaching, we’ve moved into an era where often times coaches are out of the building. If their schedules or life changes, they’re not in education, and you gotta be able to get (to practice) right after school. And if something happens to where they can’t, family or job wise, then they probably have to give up coaching for a period of time.”
Sultan athletic director Scott Sifferman said he thinks greater expectations on teachers and coaches has been a factor in that.
“Over the last decade with the increase in expectations and the demand of teaching, we have a lot of good coaches who are teachers that aren’t coaching,” he said. “They are focusing on being the best teachers they can be, and also I think the other factor is the demands that can be on coaching and being involved in a program, especially at the high school level, year round. It is tough to find.”
But Sifferman believes the short tenures aren’t just a small-school problem.
“I don’t know so much that it’s big school, little school,” he said. “I think that those are the challenges as a whole.”
Sifferman did acknowledge that one innate disadvantage a small school in a rural community has is location.
“Where we’re located, it’s a commitment,” he said. “If you live in the Everett area, it’s a commitment to get to Sultan for practice, and you’re practicing six days a week. You have games that are getting done and you’re leaving Sultan at 10 o’clock at night to get to your family. That’s a challenge.”
The increased expectations on high school coaches was a factor Smith, Lagerstedt and Granite Falls athletic director Joey Johnson also cited for shorter coaching stints at schools regardless of size.
“You’ve gotta be active all summer long to be competitive anymore,” Johnson said. “… It’s just difficult. It’s a huge time commitment, and we don’t pay them enough at all for the time they put in.”
There were various other reasons that local athletics directors said could be contributing to shorter tenures at small schools, including a coach’s desire to move to a larger program or just the natural cycle of finding a coach who sticks, but off-campus hiring, increased demands for time commitment and location seemed to be the most common factors.
“I think it really varies,” Lagerstedt said of the reasons for short tenures, “and I think it can really depend upon the school and the individual for a lot of things.”