Still on his Feet: Mac High needs a football coach

By ROBERT HUSSEMAN

Of the News-Register

For Gage Gubrud, the 2014 Les Schwab Bowl was more than an opportunity to showcase his skills against the state’s best large-school players.

It also afforded Gubrud, who quarterbacked McMinnville High School football from 2011-13, a window into how other programs operated. The players in attendance at the Les Schwab Bowl hailed from programs in Portland, Eugene and Medford; several played in the Class 6A Pacific Conference with Gubrud and the Grizzlies.

“They’re there in the weight room at six in the morning,” Gubrud said. “Even if they’re playing basketball, they’re required to be there. If they don’t show up, they’re not going to play the next year.

“If we had a head coach that was running a good system for all three years, we could’ve been really good.”

In his three years on the Mac High varsity, Gubrud – who redshirted last fall with Eastern Washington University football – had three different head coaches. Jeff Kearin in 2011, Don Rutschman in 2012 and Robin Hill in 2013. Hill resigned on Feb. 4 after two seasons with the Grizzlies; before being hired on at McMinnville, Hill had coached Sprague for 25 seasons, winning an OSAA Class 4A state championship in 2004.

Hill’s tenure was as brief as his résumé is accomplished, but he nonetheless left the community feeling positively about their Grizzlies.

“He really did a good job of seeing the whole high school student-athlete situation,” said Rutschman, who bridged Kearin and Hill as an interim head coach and remained on Hill’s staff as an assistant. “The balance between football and academics, he was really well-balanced. He was fun to coach with. He wasn’t a micromanager; he was just fun to be around.”

McMinnville went 7-13 in Hill’s two seasons, but the players enjoyed playing for him and the coaches enjoyed coaching under him. However, for the fifth time in seven seasons, the Grizzlies’ football program is left to make an important hire – even in high school, football is the straw that stirs the drink of athletic departments.

“Is it entertaining? Great in numbers? Are kids liking football?” Rutschman asked rhetorically. “I think athletics can directly relate to the next 50 years of your life.”

McMinnville athletic director Mark Hinthorn initially opened the coaching search to candidates within the McMinnville School District but has since opened it up to outside candidates. He wants, and values, a coach who will be in the building year-round. (Hill was around the building half the year as a strength and conditioning teacher.) Hinthorn also wants someone willing to put down stakes – if not eventually roots – in McMinnville. Someone who will claim a little more ownership of the program.

“It’s becoming a bad tradition,” Gubrud said. “I think they need to hire someone younger, honestly. Someone who’s planning on being there for a while. Someone who’s really dedicated to turning that program around.

“You’ve got to have guys in there working out every day and getting stronger. You’ve got to have kind of a routine and build a team.”

Gubrud pointedly stated that his comments were not a mark against Hill and the program he ran. Hill noted in an emailed statement to the News-Register following his resignation that “they need a head coach who can give them 100% of his time.”

Gubrud’s comments matter because, at the end of the day, McMinnville football must be a program the players want to be a part of and support. There is no reason to believe the Grizzlies cannot win in the Class 6A Greater Valley Conference or in the 6A state playoffs, but winning will not be the end-all, be-all of the 2015 season. It would be wonderful if Mac’s next coach would stick around a while, but there are no guarantees and the nature of high school athletics is fluid.

What the next McMinnville football coach absolutely must do is recruit the Mac High students. Those that play football now and those that, as Gubrud remarked, “should be playing football but don’t.” (They certainly exist in the building.) Even the students with no interest in playing football, the kids who fill the Grizzlies’ notorious student sections, need to feel a sense of pride in the program.

This extends to the members of the 2015 coaching staff, whoever they may be. For all the experience on Hill’s Mac High staff, no guarantee is extended to them. “The new guy has every reason to talk with the people he’s interested in,” said Rutschman, who knows a thing or two about the process.

Hinthorn told the News-Register that he would like to have a coach in place in time for spring practices and workouts. In truth, the new coach’s job will begin the minute he accepts the position.

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