By Robert Husseman • Sports Editor • 

Still on his Feet: In Shader they trust

Robert Husseman/News-RegisterWillamina head coach Rob Shader (with football) speaks to the Bulldogs during a summer workout at Willamina High School on Aug. 12.
Robert Husseman/News-Register
Willamina head coach Rob Shader (with football) speaks to the Bulldogs during a summer workout at Willamina High School on Aug. 12.

WILLAMINA – Rob Shader is in over his head.

This is not an insult or an offense: It’s a statement of fact. Shader was hired as head coach of the Willamina High School football team in May. He and his wife uprooted their lives from Seattle (Shader taught and coached track and field at Cedar Park Christian High School, in nearby Mountlake Terrace) and moved to McMinnville this summer. He has led summer workouts, met with school administrators and football stakeholders, assembled a coaching staff and met with players. Shader will teach world history and technology at Willamina High School, so while he readies the Bulldogs football team, he is also writing lesson plans.

“Let’s just say I’m glad that I’m not teaching full time right now,” he said in an interview Aug. 12. “I work a lot of hours a day that I wouldn’t be able to if I was teaching. I don’t want to be that teacher who forgets about his classroom for months and then comes back after football season’s over. I want to have the best world history class as well as the best football team.”

If his football team is to be believed, there will be fights for the front-row seats in Shader’s classes.

“Shader’s just so awesome,” senior Shane Thomas said. “He’s such a kind-hearted guy. I was unsure about having a new coach that I didn’t really know. I meet him and I was like, wow. I shouldn’t have been worried at all. This guy’s amazing.”

“I feel pretty comfortable with everything that he brings in,” senior Jordan Combs said.

“He also has a serious side, but he wants us to do good this year,” junior Mark Mayes said. “He’s going back over the basics this year.”

Hold that thought, Mark. Willamina is a proud football town with good reason to be. Under Tim France, who accepted the Bulldogs’ head coaching position in 2008, Willamina went to the OSAA Class 3A state playoffs four times, including a state quarterfinal appearance in 2012. (France remains the principal at Willamina High School, which means Shader works under him. Such is the nature of high school athletics.)

Shader prepared for his interview with Bulldogs Athletic Director Jerry Buczynski, creating a full playbook and detailing the finer points of his coaching philosophy. Buczynski was inspired. He needed to feel confident about his next head football coach – in a town where roots run deep – and he felt strongly about what Shader brought to the table.

Shader is a young coach; he graduated from South Albany High School in 2007. (Shader played football at Santiam Christian High School in Adair Village.) He spent a spring walking onto the University of Oregon football team as a wide receiver; as if to show him his place in the pecking order, the Ducks issued him No. 90. He has never been paid to coach high school football before.

Nevertheless, he has a plan. And he is aware enough of his surroundings to change his plan as needed.

“I got together with the returning juniors and seniors and I asked them the same question,” Shader said. “I said, ‘What do you love about Willamina football? And what are some things to change?’ They wanted to keep certain things the same, but just connecting with them, I think they were hoping for change. They were ready for change.

“Some places you go are kind of opposed to change and will shut down change. It seems like most all the players are open to the new offense, the new things I’m going (to install).

“I want to ride that line closely. I know they do have a strong tradition of football and they’ve been successful the last 10 years of football. Even though they had a strong tradition, I think they’re ready to change.”

Shader is embracing the Bulldogs’ recent past. Not just the playoff appearances, but the 2013 season. Imagine that: a new coach walks into a situation and isn’t afraid of the fact that his team went 1-8 the year before he got there.

“It almost feels like he’s trying to get us to think about a new year but he doesn’t want us to forget the past so we want to be better,” Thomas said. “That’s how I feel. I don’t want to have that bad of a season ever again.”

It’s not scaring the team straight; it’s helping them understand what happened. Helping Willamina to understand where things go wrong and how they can be corrected.

Shader has all the help he needs in assistant coaches Scott Nelson, Tim Hanson and Bubba Cavan. Nelson and Hanson were on the staff last season; Cavin coached a middle-school team last season, members of which will be freshmen playing varsity football this fall. Over the summer, the Bulldogs’ staff agreed on best practices at Ruby Tuesday’s restaurant in McMinnville, aligning their vision of what works for Willamina.

It will take a season for Shader to settle in – it always does. Once that happens, the Bulldogs will be a team to watch.

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