On its face, finding someone to take over the DeSales High School football program doesn’t seem like such a big deal.
There’s any number of capable coaches just waiting in the wings. Right?
Here are some ideas.
* Kim Cox, who held the Irish football reins on four separate occasions and guided DeSales to three state championships, is still on staff at DeSales. Who’s to say he won’t step back into coaching arena this fall?
Mike Levens has been a DeSales assistant coach off and on — mostly on — for more than two decades and is now running the Irish’s summer weight program along with fellow assistant coach Josh Richard. Levens coached 41 years at Walla Walla Community College, the last 10 as the Warriors’ head coach, and he’s forgotten more about football than most of us will ever know.
Kellen Clemens is a volunteer assistant coach at DeSales who has a football pedigree a mile long. A native of Burns, Ore., and a graduate of the University of Oregon, Clemens retired in 2017 after 12 seasons as an NFL quarterback and now makes his home in Walla Walla and is firmly entrenched in the Catholic community.
Wayne Dickey began his coaching career at DeSales (baseball and basketball) in the early 1970s before moving on to Touchet, where he coached the Indians to four 8-man state football championships and three second-place finishes. He’s now retired, still makes Walla Walla his home and would be a perfect fit to transition DeSales from 11-man to 8-man football.
Gary Dorman was Dickey’s trusted assistant coach at Touchet for 28 seasons and took over the program when Dickey retired after the 2008 season. Dorman served as head coach for eight years, led the Indians to the Gridiron Classic in 2013 and retired as coach and teacher after the 2016-17 school year.
Marc Yonts and Jeff Bartlow are a couple of other former head football coaches — Yonts at Wa-Hi, Bartlow at Waitsburg — who are still in the area and might consider getting back in the game.
And finally, Mike Spiess, who announced this spring that he would not be returning after a total of 13 seasons as DeSales’ head football coach, the last seven in succession. If Spiess returns to DeSales this fall for his 21st year as a teacher and the school’s dean of students, there’s always the chance he might agree to take the team back.
Spiess planned to step down as football coach after the 2017 season, hoping to hand the job over to Pat Graham, one of his assistant coaches and a former Irish head coach who has one state championship on his resume. But when Graham moved to Kennewick a year ago, Spiess agreed to coach the team again in 2018.
“I had been working on other guys as an exit plan,” Spiess explained.
“I was hoping to get Pat (Graham) more involved, and then he moved to the Tri-Cities,” Spiess said. “And I had another guy in mind who I was hoping would step in and take it over, but so far that hasn’t worked out, either.”
Irish athletic director Nick Hazeltine has said that the job is open and that he doesn’t feel rushed to fill it.
“We are just trying to be patient and find the right fit,” he said. “We don’t have a specific time frame and we’re not seeing a specific person.”
Nevertheless, practice is scheduled to begin Aug. 21 and the Irish are slated to play their first 8-man game in school history Sept. 13 at Colton.
DeSales’ decision to go 8-man stems from a dwindling number of players turning out for the sport in recent years. The Irish finished the 2018 campaign with fewer than 20 players, and no more than 16 players have committed to playing this fall.
“That’s cutting it close as far as 11-man goes,” Hazeltine said of last year’s roster. “And we had a lot of older kids who were able to play both ways.
“This year we are not going to have as many older kids and that is quite a factor, too. We could have more kids but not kids who are able to do that (play offense and defense), so it puts us in a tight spot.”
Levens, for one, doesn’t think the transition to 8-man football will be as difficult as some might suggest.
“I don’t think it will be a problem at all.” Levens said. “We’ve watched some film, talked to Wayne (Dickey), and there are some differences because it is a different game. But it looks like football to me.
“I think our kids will adapt to it pretty quickly from a football standpoint,” Levens added. “We have some kids who are pretty good in space and that is the most important thing in that game. I think if they all turn out, they could have a lot of success.”
Cox, on the other hand, thinks adjusting to the 8-man game could prove to be a coaching challenge.
“I know it would be a big job for me,” Cox said. “It’s a totally different game.”
Cox also submitted another coaching option for DeSales’ consideration.
“If they asked me, the first one I would get is Jeff Nelson,” Cox said, referencing the former Lacrosse-Washtucna coach who led the Wildcats to four consecutive 8-man state titles beginning in 2003 and chalked up a fifth state championship in 2008.
“He’s a Walla Walla guy and he might like to get back to his hometown,” Cox said of Nelson, who graduated from Wa-Hi. “Of course he would need a teaching job, and his wife is a teacher, too.
Lots of coaching possibilities to be sure. But who’s going to raise their hand and take on the job?
At least 16 DeSales Irish athletes would like to know.