Terry Ennis: A compassionate champion

Perhaps the greatest measure of a coach comes not in wins or losses but in those impacted along the way.

Table of contents
A coach’s son
Man in charge
Going home
Two of a kind
Top of the mountain
End of an era, Part 1
A new start
Champs again
End of an era, Part 2
Gone but not forgotten

An extension of that theory can be made about life itself. A great man should not be measured solely by those that he touched in life, but also in the effects that continue to ripple after he is gone.

Selecting legendary high school football coach Terry Ennis as Snohomish County’s Most Successful Coach of All Time was a somewhat simple task when taking into account all of his achievements on the sideline. But it’s the effect that Ennis continues to have on those who knew him, 10 months after he lost his battle with cancer, that really makes the man special.

“Since he’s been gone, there are a lot of things I didn’t know about him that have helped define him more,” said Roger Brodniak, a former player and assistant under Ennis. “… I’m just now trying to understand everything he was.”

As an example, Brodniak told a story that he hadn’t heard until shortly after Ennis’s September death.

Ennis was known for reaching out to players in need, often taking in young men whose family lives were unstable. But sometime around 1980, as Brodniak only recently learned, Ennis showed his knack for unconditional love by extending his hand to a pair of young men who didn’t even know what a football was.

As the story goes, Ennis was coaching at Renton High School when he heard a rumor about two students from Iran who were living alone in a nearby apartment. While the entire nation battled confusing emotions that stemmed from the Iranian hostage crisis, Ennis stepped across the political boundaries and took in the 18-year-old exchange students as if they were his own. He fed them and housed them for about two months.

“They were wonderful kids,” said Ennis’s son, Joe, who was 10 years old at the time. “Sayid and Muhammad — I’ll always remember them.”

Everyone who has been touched by the man has a story about Ennis. The stories typically fit into one of four categories: dealing with Ennis’s intensity, his attention to detail, his insistence on consistency or his compassion for others.

The most important story, that of Terry Ennis’s 63-year life, wraps all four traits into one.

Terry Ennis was born into the coaching fraternity, although certainly not with any silver spoons.

His father, Jim, was a no-nonsense football coach who was just as intense at home as he was on the practice field. A self-made man who spent some time in an orphanage and eventually left home for good at the age of 15, Jim Ennis established himself as one of the most successful coaches in the state. He coached football and basketball, leading Everett High School to state prominence in both sports.

“You knew Jim was in charge. And you’d better toe the line if you wanted to keep going,” said Harold Pyatte, a longtime Everett resident who played on a summer baseball team that Jim Ennis helped coach. “He was a fiery guy, and he was such a legend around here.”

Jim Ennis could be just as intimidating as a father.

“When Jimmy would come home in a mood, no one would say a word until he was ready,” said Roman Miller, a longtime friend of the Ennis family.

Added Joe Ennis, Jim’s grandson and Terry’s only son: “It was definitely tough. There weren’t a lot of hugs and I love yous. But (Terry Ennis) always knew his dad cared deeply for him.”

Jim Ennis was so tough on his oldest son, Jimmy Jr., that his wife made him promise to give up his coaching duties when Terry was old enough to play for Everett High. Jim Ennis became athletic director at the school, and his youngest son forged a solid playing career with the Seagulls.

A father’s toughness brought out the best in young Terry, who became the quarterback and undisputed leader of the EHS football team in 1961.

“He was in command in the huddle,” former Everett High teammate Mike Gregoire said recently.

The 5-foot-6, 140-pound Ennis went on to play at Santa Clara University, where he was a starting defensive back and four-year letterman. Ennis overcame his lack of size to help lead the Broncos to a 21-6 record over his final three seasons.

“He was a student of the game,” said Chuck Sullivan, one of Ennis’s best friends from the Santa Clara days. “He knew he had to be smarter than the other guys because he wasn’t as big or fast. He would anticipate and strategize more because he couldn’t overpower anyone.”

While his father had been a standout coach in multiple sports, Terry Ennis became obsessed with only one game. Brodniak, who would later play and coach at Cascade, said that Ennis once advised him to “spend an hour each day reading about football.”

With no chance to playing professionally, Ennis immediately got into coaching. His first job came as an assistant to Bo Pastorini — older brother of longtime NFL quarterback Dan Pastorini — at St. Vincent’s High School in Vallejo, Calif. But that school shut its doors after Ennis’s first season, and he moved on to Jesuit High in Portland.

In 1971, Ennis got his first-head coaching job — at Stanwood High School. Three years later, he went to Bellarmine High School in Tacoma, where his staff included an aging legend named Jim Ennis who made the 60-mile drive from Everett to Tacoma to help run practices.

Using a Wing-T offense that relied heavily on a tenacious ground game, father and son ran a successful program for five years before Terry Ennis moved again, a few miles north to Renton High School. His first season, in 1978, was so successful that The Seattle Times named Ennis its coach of the year.

One of his assistants, Andre Patterson, was amazed by the way Ennis went about his business.

“He was the most organized, fundamentally sound coach I’ve ever been around,” said Patterson, who has gone on to coach at major-college programs and in the NFL, alongside the likes of Mike Shanahan, Dennis Green, Dave Campo and Pete Carroll. “I learned more from Terry Ennis than from any coach I’ve ever worked with — and it’s not even close.”

Ennis spent 10 years at Renton High, winning more than 70 percent of his games, before he felt the need to move on again.

His only son, Joe, was going to be a junior at Kentridge High School, and so part of Ennis’s motivation was to take his son to a school where they could compete together. Ennis also wanted to get geographically closer to his aging father and return to his hometown.

Both Everett High School and Cascade were hiring during the summer of 1988. Ennis spurned his alma mater to take the job at Cascade, where the football program was not exactly a title contender.

Ennis never publicly explained why he chose the Cascade job over the one at EHS, where football was king and his father’s shadow loomed large.

“I don’t think he was trying to avoid anything,” son Joe Ennis said earlier this month. “He has deep ties to Everett High School, not just because of his father but also because of the guys he was close to while he was there. That song, ‘Everett man ‘til the day I die,’ he really believed that.”

For Cascade, the decision to hire Ennis was an easy one.

“He had a way, not only in coaching but also in the way he dealt with people,” former Cascade principal Gary Axtell said. “That’s kind of the X factor that you can’t always tap. He had intensity and commitment. His expectations of his ballplayers and the people around him were the same.”

It did not take long for Cascade’s new football coach to make an impression.

“He was strictly business, talking about behavior control on campus,” said Bob Smithson, who was Cascade’s baseball coach when Ennis was hired. “He didn’t want people walking down the halls getting out of someone’s way just because that person was an athlete.

“He brought this attitude, from that first fall, that set the tone for the whole department. He turned the program around by attitude alone.”

Ennis also set a tone for the football team during that 1988 season. In a pivotal game that would go a long way toward deciding the Western Conference champion, Ennis benched his star running back after the senior spiked a ball in frustration near the opposing team’s goal line. The backup running back failed to get into the end zone, and Cascade lost the game.

“Terry never blinked an eye about it,” Smithson said. “That really set the tone for the way it was going to be.”

That would be the last time that an Ennis-led Cascade team would fail to win the Wesco. Son Joe Ennis took over as starting quarterback the following year and helped his father win the Wesco. It was the first of 10 consecutive conference titles for the Bruins.

Ennis had built an unlikely powerhouse at Cascade High.

“He had some cornerbacks that couldn’t outrun me — and that’s pretty bad,” said Smithson, who went on to become the school’s athletic director but has since retired. “But he had a way of getting them to play the right way, to be in the right place all the time, so they made the most out of their ability.

“He had the most unbelievable vision of the field — more than anybody I’ve ever seen. He could see a linebacker cheating on a certain play, and he’d catch the linebacker cheating on the next play and call a run that would go right by him.”

The summer following that first Wesco title, in August 1990, Ennis’s life suffered a tragic setback when his father, the legendary coach, died suddenly. His death was initially ruled a drowning, but later attributed to a heart attack.

How, exactly, his father’s death affected Terry Ennis was never really known. The second-generation coach was private about personal things, and so he never addressed his feelings publicly.

“It happened right before the season. And he never talked about it,” said Brodniak, who was a sophomore on that 1990 Cascade football team. “It was kind of like his cancer (13 years later). He was so focused on the mission. His dad died, and he never mentioned it.”

Former University of Washington football coach Jim Lambright, who played for Jim Ennis and was friends with Terry Ennis, said the two were more alike than people may realize. “Terry and Jim are absolutely the same in terms of philosophy and teaching,” Lambright said.

Jim Ennis was gone but not forgotten — not by his youngest son, and not by the county where he had become a coaching legend.

But the following year, in 1991, Terry Ennis would take a large step toward creating quite a legend of his own.

As successful as his coaching career had been, Ennis took things to a new level in 1991. That season, he not only led the Bruins to their first playoff win in 11 years, but also brought home Cascade’s first state title by way of a 14-7 win over Puyallup.

“That was the frosting on the cake of his career,” said Miller, the longtime family friend who would remain close to Ennis for his entire life. “He had won everywhere he went, but it’s really hard to win a state title.”

While most people remember Ennis’s tenure at Cascade for the state title, those who were along for the ride recall the way the coach went about things. No matter how great Ennis was as a coach, he was always a teacher first.

An avid racquetball player, Ennis often gave some of his more memorable lessons on that court.

Brodniak recalls a time when he and Ennis were playing a friendly game, only to feel the intensity rise as the game went on. With the score tied, Brodniak inadvertently hit Ennis in the head with his racquet while trying to get to a ball. Rather than stop the game, Ennis continued on — blood and all.

The head coach scored the next five points to beat his assistant.

“That’s an example of how focused he was,” Brodniak recalled earlier this month. “Maybe he was setting an example for me: When times are tough, what kind of man are you going to be?”

Former Cascade football star Austin Matson also has a vivid memory from the racquetball court.

At the time, Matson was on break from Washington State University, where he was a starting defensive lineman. He met up with his former coach to play some racquetball at the courts in Cascade’s basement.

“I missed a couple shots, and I swore. I don’t know what I was thinking,” Matson recalled. “He stopped the game and said: ‘I don’t care what you do or where you are in life , but you’re not going to swear around me.’

“That was the consistency you got from him. You were never in the dark. He told you how it was going to be, and that’s the way it was.”

Ennis’s consistency and intensity would become trademarks of his Cascade years. And people were also beginning to use another word to describe Ennis: Legend.

In 1999, after Ennis had led Cascade to another Wesco football title, the Everett School District went into a state of reshuffling that would eventually send Cascade’s greatest football coach of all time into a temporary retirement.

Ennis, who was also a vice principal at the school, lost out on his bid to become principal of the high school and was due to change schools because of a decision to shuffle the vice principals throughout the district. Rather than give up his vice principal job and continue coaching, Ennis accepted a post as the district’s athletic director.

His tenure at Cascade was over. And so, it appeared, was his career as a football coach.

“I really thought he should be principal here,” Smithson said. “… All of a sudden, you take the best coach in the state, and tell him he can’t work here anymore. That’s the most asinine process that I’ve ever seen.”

According to son Joe, Ennis was at peace with the decision.

“If he hadn’t won a state championship,” Joe Ennis said, “I don’t know if he would’ve been able to walk away.”

In 11 years at Cascade, Ennis won 10 Wesco titles and had an overall record of 103-20. He was one of just eight high school coaches in state history to record 200 career victories, and the Seattle Times named him as the area’s best high school coach of the 20th Century. The WIAA renamed its annual coach-of-the-year award in Ennis’s honor.

But the impact Ennis left on Cascade was about more than wins and losses.

“Terry’s the most incredible guy I’ve ever been around,” Smithson said.

During Ennis’s storied coaching career, he had plenty of opportunities to move up. Fellow EHS graduates Dennis Erickson and Mike Price both inquired about adding him to their coaching staffs. Several other calls came in as well, but Ennis preferred to stay at the high school level because he loved to teach.

The question begs as to whether Ennis could have made it at the next level.

“He probably would have ended up being a bowl-level head coach in college or a head coach in the NFL,” said Patterson, the former assistant who has spent the past 20 years coaching at the college and NFL levels.

After his first year as district athletic director, Ennis got a call from a private school in south Everett in 2000. Archbishop Murphy wanted to start a football program, and the school believed Ennis was just the man for the job.

Ennis, who was 56 at the time, took the challenge head on.

And what a challenge it was.

“I thought, boy, those kids are in for the shock of their lives,” said Matson, who eventually joined Ennis’s coaching staff at the private school in south Everett. “But there never was a time when I doubted he could do it. The way he could teach, especially the Wing-T and the ethereal way he looked at football, I knew he could do it.”

Brodniak’s earliest memory from the Archbishop Murphy days stemmed from the morning when the coaches handed out football gear to a group of underwhelming physiques.

“They were small and young,” Brodniak said. “They were eager, but not all-staters. Then we played the North Kitsap sophomore team in our first scrimmage and got absolutely annihilated. I mean, we were ready to tear down the goalposts after a first down. We were just trying to cross midfield. The coaches looked at each other like: What have we gotten ourselves into?”

But Archbishop Murphy’s scrappy football players kept believing in their legendary coach and got better each week. By the end of their first season in 2000, the Wildcats had a respectable 3-5 record. It was the first losing season for an Ennis-coached team for as long as anyone could remember, but the team’s improvement left reason for optimism.

No one, however, could have predicted what was about to come.

In the fall of 2002, Ennis led his troops out for another season with his typically high expectations. But truth be told, the Wildcats were still far from being mentioned as a possible state title contender.

Archbishop Murphy had lost eight games over the first two seasons of the football program’s existence, marking almost as many losses as Ennis had suffered in his final eight seasons at Cascade. He had refused to compromise his coaching philosophies, taking an old-school approach to the new program because it was the only way he knew. He continued to run the Wing-T, while others had progressed to pro-style passing offenses.

And in the end, Ennis’s coaching style paid off once again.

In 2002, the Wildcats broke out and played like the teams of Ennis’s past. Archbishop Murphy got off to a fast start and just kept winning. And winning. And winning.

The Wildcats followed a 9-1 regular season by winning their first playoff game. And their next. Before they knew what hit them, the Wildcats were in the Class 1A state championship game.

“There was genuine surprise in everybody’s face each time they won,” said Joe Ennis, Terry’s son. “The expectation was: We’re just glad to be here. But then they just kept on winning.”

Using a typical Ennis offense, Archbishop Murphy went into the state-title game and ran over its opponent. While piling up a championship game-record 466 rushing yards, the Wildcats destroyed Royal by the score of 35-14.

His program just three years old, Ennis had already brought home another winner.

“They bought into the system right away, and they worked hard for it,” said Joe Ennis, who helped broadcast the Wildcats’ playoff games on the radio that year. “That was the best thing for my dad. He was coaching all these meaningful games again, and he got really focused.

“At that point, his career was winding down, and he was more fun. Those kids, you couldn’t yell at them all the time; they’d shut down. He was very gentle compared to how he used to be.”

Of all the remarkable things Terry Ennis had done during his coaching career, turning Archbishop Murphy into such an immediate winner was probably the least likely.

“It would be almost impossible for the average coach to do what he did,” Smithson said.

Three months later, during a routine doctor’s checkup in Feb. 2003, Ennis received the worst news of his life.

Former Cascade star Matson couldn’t believe it when he heard that his former coach, the great Terry Ennis, had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

“My stomach dropped,” Matson said of the news Ennis received in 2003. “I always wanted to come back and coach with him, but I’d always thought I would have a lot of time to do it. Now I wondered whether I would ever get the chance.”

Ennis underwent four months of extensive chemotherapy but never winced in public. By the fall, he was back on the field and ready to defend his state title. Ennis always taught his players to fight through the pain, and now it was time for him to lead by example.

Ennis never talked about his cancer, not even to close friends and associates.

“He was very private,” said Patti Means, his assistant for the final five years of Ennis’s life. “He did not want to dwell on that. He was a very positive person, a look-on-the-bright-side guy who was always looking forward to what’s next.

“He didn’t want to talk about the specific steps of his treatment or any of that. He never talked about it with me.”

Ennis rolled up his sleeves and got to work without letting on about how difficult the fight may be. With Matson added to his staff for the 2003 season, Ennis started preparing the Wildcats for another improbable season. Archbishop Murphy went unbeaten and marched all the way to another state championship.

During the five-year period between 2002 and 2006, Ennis’s Archbishop Murphy teams went 64-4.

He had high hopes for the 2007 team as well. But behind the scenes, Ennis’s health was rapidly declining.

The 63-year-old Ennis still refused to succumb to sympathy from others.

“He didn’t want me to know how serious it was at the end,” Patterson said. “I kept leaving him messages, but he wouldn’t call me back. His wife, Frannie, told me at the funeral that he didn’t want to let me know how serious it had gotten.

“I wish I could’ve had one more conversation with Terry, but that’s the way he wanted it.”

Four days after working the sideline for career victory No. 287, Ennis passed away at the University of Washington Medical Center. The date was Sept. 12, 2007, two games into the Wildcats’ season.

“It was unbelievable,” said Axtell, the former Cascade principal. “… Knowing how vibrant he was, to lose him was really some thing.

“Terry was still going 100 miles per hour. That really hits home.”

Means, who still works at Archbishop Murphy after spending five years as Ennis’s assistant, went into an immediate state of planning that delayed her period of mourning. She helped set up a memorial service that attracted about 2,000 people while fielding e-mails from “hundreds and hundreds” of others who were unable to attend. Governor Chris Gregoire and Arizona State University coach Dennis Erickson were among the people who wrote letters on Ennis’s behalf.

Means was always getting constant reminders of how beloved Ennis was, but even she was taken aback by the outpouring of sympathy.

“We had no idea how many people to expect,” she said. “…It was heartwarming to see how many people he touched.”

Even now, more than 10 months after his death, Ennis continues to touch people with the memories and motivating words he’s left behind.

“Kids were attracted to him because of his success and his love for the game. They wanted to play for him,” said Keith Gilbertson Sr., a graduate assistant at Washington State when Jim Ennis played there and a longtime family friend. “He was a good football coach, a good person, and one of the most respected guys you’d ever want to be around.”

Terry Ennis was a lot of things to a lot of people.

As a coach, he’s the greatest Snohomish County has ever known.

Talk to us

More in Sports

Shorewood’s Ben Borgia lines up his putt during the Tom Dolan Memorial Invitational at the Everett Golf & Country Club on Monday, April 11, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
State golf preview: Local qualifiers and top area golfers to watch

The high school state golf tournaments are Tuesday and Wednesday at various courses across the state.

Kamiak's Luke Strand (left to right), Brandon Yoon, coach Vic Alinen, Daniel Kim, Brandon Suh and Aaron Choi pose for a photo after winning the Class 4A Distrcit 1 Tournament on May 17, 2022, at Legion Memorial Golf Course in Everett. (Contributed photo)
Defending champ Kamiak set for long-awaited state return

Senior Daniel Kim leads a reloaded squad that’s poised for another top finish.

Sisters Kiana and Malia Schroeder, who will be representing Lakewood High School at state, stand back to back in front of their school Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Sisters lead charge for rising Lakewood girls golf team

State-bound Cougars Kiana and Malia Schroeder make up a strong 1-2 punch for the Northwest Conference champions.

AquaSox's manager, Louis Boyd, Funko Field at Everett Memorial Stadium in Everett on July 28, 2019. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Surging AquaSox pull away to beat Hops

Everett adds on late for its fifth straight win.

Boston Red Sox's Franchy Cordero, center, celebrates with teammates after hitting a grand slam in the tenth inning of a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, Sunday, May 22, 2022, in Boston. The Red Sox won 8-4. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
M’s lose to Red Sox on walk-off grand slam

Seattle ends its road trip by being swept in a four-game series with Boston.

Kamiak’s Koll Pehlivanian’s charge is halted by Skyline’s Vishnu Varadhan Saturday afternoon at Goddard Stadium in Everett, Washington on May 21, 2022. The Knights lost 5-2. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Skyline adds on late to oust Kamiak boys soccer from state

The Knights kept it close for the first 60 minutes of a season-ending loss in the state quarterfinals.

Lake Washington rallies to eliminate Ed.-Woodway baseball from state

The Kangaroos pull ahead with 3 runs in the 6th and hand the Warriors a season-ending 3-1 loss in a 3A state regional.

Lynnwood baseball’s strong season comes to rough end at state

The district champion Royals suffer an 11-1 mercy-rule loss to Mt. Spokane in a 3A state regional.

White line on Green grass sport field for sport concept
Prep results for Saturday, May 21

Prep results for Saturday, May 21 (Note for coaches/Scorekeepers: To report results… Continue reading

Most Read