Decades have passed, game-day coaching attire has changed, but teaching the fundamentals of football to high school-age players has, for the most part, remained the same for longtime Tumwater High School football coach Sid Otton.
Now in his 40th season coaching the Thunderbirds, and 46th overall, Otton’s is on the brink of reaching another milestone in his illustrious career -- career victory No. 350 -- when the No. 2-ranked T-Birds (3-0) host Capital (0-3) in the 2A Evergreen Conference opener Friday night at Tumwater District Stadium.
Otton’s 349 career wins span his years at Tumwater, plus four at Colfax and two at Coupeville not only is tops in the state of Washington, but is No. 1 in 34 states.
To go along with five state championships at Tumwater, he has three undefeated seasons (1970, ‘89, ‘90), 12 one-loss seasons and a 73.3 winning percentage.
Olympian reporter Meg Wochnick caught up with Otton this week, as he’s on the cusp of joining a distinguished list of only 25 active high school football coaches nationwide with 350 or more victories, according to the National High School Federation record book.
Q: Your coaching career has now spanned six decades. How has the high school game changed?
A: I think that first game (in 1967), I wore a tie and a trench-coat and slacks and had four guys beside me and 15 players. That part of it has certainly changed. In those days, you don’t have all the summer workouts and everything people do now. People had a real life and the summer time to do stuff. Now, it’s a lot more time consuming, of course, and the game itself has changed quite a bit with things people are doing, but it’s still about organization and tackling and blocking.
Q: Have the kids changed much?
A: Lately here, their attention span is a little shorter with smartphones and texting. I think you have to get your message a bit quicker and do a little bit better. You can’t expect just talking that they’re going to get it. You have to be quick.
Q: What do you remember about your first game as a high school coach in 1967 at Coupeville?
A: We had a great running back, Barry Brown. The (University of Washington) Huskies were interested in him. He was doing awesome, averaging 200 yards rushing a game, then tore up his ankle. He was a load. Part of that game, I remember, we were a B (11-man) school and we played Granite Falls (Class A). We lost 12-6. I remember being in the lockerroom and talking to them. It was one of those situations where they hadn’t won in three years. You’re young, out of college and you’re really excited. It was a neat experience. My wife (Marjean, then age 20) would go scouting with me to all the games. The people there were really nice. It was a quick learning experience.
Q: At what point did you realize coaching was for you?
A: When I knew I couldn't play any longer. There wasn't a question -- I wanted to stay in the game. I think you start off doing it because you love the game, but then later you understand the important parts.
Q: You spent a year as an student assistant at Weber State and as a graduate assistant at Utah State in the late 1960s. Did you ever have an itch to coach in college after that?
A: That’s the first thing I wanted to do. Tom Ramage (former longtime defensive line coach at BYU) helped me a lot and I wanted to do what he was doing. That’s where I thought I’d be going. But it turned out you get into high schools and that’s a neat thing. Some people went into high school to be an assistant somewhere, but I wanted to be a head coach and learn that way. You learn a little faster.
Q: How special has it been to now coach your two oldest grandsons -- starting quarterback Jayden Croft and freshman Cade Otton -- in addition to coaching your sons, Brad and Tim (also on the T-Birds’ coaching staff) in the 1980s?
A: It’s awesome. just like when you have your own kids playing, people say ‘Oh, they’re only playing because it’s the coach’s son, and now, it’s the grandson.’ But they’re both great athletes. They just do it themselves. It’s a neat experience. I see it going too fast. Jayden is a senior and we’ve already have three games under our belt. Once you see it, it goes clipping by.
Q: What comes to your mind when you hear 350 wins?
A: Wondering if I was going to last. We didn’t set the world on fire the first couple of years. The experience in Colfax was great. A tremendous sports town, great football players and people who loved the game. Even so, I followed a pretty successful coach. Coming here, Bill Beattie, Matt Hinkle, those guys the first three years we didn’t set the world on fire again, but we hung in there and had some great assistant coaches. When they were seniors (in 1977), they had a special year and turned the tide in the right direction.
Q: Do you think you’ll get to 400 wins?
A: I hope to get to 350.
Q: What is your key to success after all these years in coaching?
A: I told the kids today, giving them advice when they go out into the big world is don’t look yourself in the mirror (with a big head), but surround yourself with great people, and that’s what we've done. Don’t let them watch a one-man show. I think that’s certainly been fortunate with a lot of young players come through, and our staff. We enjoy being together and we have a lot of run. We work well together. That’s a huge key.
-- Meg Wochnick, staff writer