After a decade as an assistant football coach, Eric Snelson was ready to run his own program, but landing the right opportunity was key in order to pull the trigger.
He thinks he’s found it at Rochester High School.
“I thought things lined up perfectly,” Snelson said. “It feels right.”
The football coaching carousel was in full swing this offseason with six South Sound-area schools having head-coaching changes. New faces were in charge at Rochester (Snelson), Rainier (Terry Shaw), Black Hills (Dominic Yarrington), Centralia (Matt Whitmire), Mary M. Knight (Matt Brkljacich) and Yelm (Jason Ronquillo) on Wednesday across Washington state, the first day football practice was allowed.
For Snelson and Shaw, the first practice also had a different feel as first-time head coaches running them.
Rochester joined Capital as the early-bird teams, each starting practice at 8 a.m.
“You think you know what you’re getting into (as a head coach), but it’s like an onion – there’s layer after layer after layer of detail,” said Snelson, a former all-Pacific-10 Conference tight end at Stanford in the late 1980s. “You really don’t know it all until you actually get in the middle and do it.”
Snelson, like most of his staff, previously was at Black Hills. Snelson was the longtime defensive coordinator for head coach Jack Zilla. Now the tables are turned now, with Zilla assisting Snelson.
Shane Dover (offensive coordinator) and Mike Gibbons (defensive line) are also former Black Hills assistants on Snelson’s staff.
There were glimpses of the previous staff’s traditions brought to south Thurston County.
The Warriors, who went 2-7 a year ago, finished practice with a cohesive “Love us, love each other” chant.
Around 40 players turned out with almost half new to the team between incoming freshmen and those recruited by current players.
Quarterback Tyler Gedney, one of seven seniors who are seeing the program’s fourth head coach in four years and the seventh since 2002, spoke of the “vibe and excitement” surrounding the program, while fellow senior Tyler Yarber, the Warriors’ starting running back, expressed excitement about the amount of energy Snelson and his staff have.
“It’s a very good and skilled coaching staff,” Yarber said, “and they know what they’re doing.”
Eighteen miles east at fellow 1A Southwest Washington Evergreen Division member Rainier, Shaw, Timberline High’s choir director, was busy directing the Mountaineers’ afternoon practice on the stadium grass.
He has a familiar coaching staff in Jeremy Clark, Calvin Hicks and David Castillo, all of whom have local assistant-coaching ties prior to Rainier.
It’s all about a new start at Rainier, where the four-man coaching staff wore customized black T-shirts reading “A new beginning at Rainier Football starts with me.”
Shaw called the players on his new team “hungry” for success, and he didn’t limit it to winning and losing.
“We’ve talked about it with the guys, ‘What is success for us this year?’ ” said Shaw, who previously was an assistant coach at Timberline, Northwest Christian, and, most recently, Olympia. “… It’s your best effort every play.”
Senior linebacker/fullback Bailey Miller said the confidence level of players has soared since Shaw’s hiring in March, and the turnout numbers prove it: Rainier, one of Class 1A’s smallest schools, had 34 players show up Wednesday, up from the low-20s in 2012.
“Everyone is a lot more comfortable now,” Miller said. “Hopefully, everyone believes in what these coaches can do and what we can do.”
Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org/southsoundsports