After six weeks of searching that included two rounds of applications, the Pendleton Buckaroos have found their new head football coach, pending school board approval of course.
Erik Davis, an assistant football coach at Western Oregon University, will take over the head football job at Pendleton High School this fall while also teaching health and physical education classes.
“Erik, he has got a football mind,” said Pendleton Athletic Director Troy Jerome, who sat on the district’s hiring committee. “He’s very knowledgeable about the game. That knowledge and being able to relate to high school players will be some of his biggest pluses.”
The Pendleton School Board will deliberate on Davis’ hiring at its August 7 session.
Davis, 36, has plenty of ties to Pendleton, and that history was a strong draw for him in coming back to Eastern Oregon, he said. In 2005-2006, he coached the offense for Pendleton, a job he took after serving as Redmond’s assistant football coach from 2000-2003.
His wife Molly is also from Pendleton.
“She still has family here,” Davis said while in town Tuesday. “This has always been considered home, even though it hasn’t always been our address.”
Davis left the Bucks and coaching for a few years to live in Boise, Idaho, where he first started playing college football as a Bronco (Davis transferred to Western Oregon midway through his eligibility). He then started working as the head receivers coach and pass game coordinator at WOU in Monmouth and went back to school for a second degree.
He graduated with a Master of Arts in teaching with an endorsement in health this winter and started thinking about the high school game again. A head coaching opening in Pendleton immediately caught his interest.
High school football has its differences from college, Davis said, but his approach won’t change.
“It really is all about the kids and how you deal and interact with the players,” Davis said. “That doesn’t change from college to high school. It’s not a step down to me. You’re still dealing with great athletes and great kids.”
The coach has a knack for relating to young players half his age, said Mike Royer, a freshman receiver at Western Oregon last fall who red shirted. Davis has mentorship capabilities.
“He’s going to be great with high school kids,” said Royer, a Hermiston High graduate in 2011. “He doesn’t have to be serious all the time. He can crack a joke and ease up the team and keep things from being so serious all the time.”
Coach Davis also preaches physicality and tough receivers in the pass game, Royer said.
A quarterback throughout his playing days, offense comes the quickest for Davis, but coaching at the college levels creates well-rounded football coaches, he said. Special teams and defense are studied on film as much as offense while coaches search for exploitable holes.
“As a coach I’m very comfortable in all areas,” he said. “But we will throw the ball around the field a little bit.”
Davis will fill the opening created when the district declined to renew the contract of Mitch Sanders, Pendleton’s head football coach, athletic director and assistant principal for the previous three years. Sanders led the Bucks to an 8-3 record last season and a first-round playoff appearance.
Applicants started rolling in in late May and a full round of interviews turned up a series of great candidates, Jerome said. But not the right candidate.
The job was reopened two weeks ago, even though delaying the hire meant the new coach wouldn’t be in place until August. Starting a little slow was a necessary evil on the way to finding the best fit for the position, Jerome said.
“We wanted to find the right guy. We don’t want to have to go through this process every four or five years,” he said, adding that the district wanted to find a coach they felt would want to turn his stop in Pendleton into a career-long home.
The short summer doesn’t give Davis a full slate of preparation time for the Bucks’ first game. The coach is in the final stages of the hiring process and said he’s eager to finally get to the field.
“West Albany’s waiting in the wings and we’re hoping to get together, throw some plays together and get ready to compete,” he said.
Pendleton opens the season with the Bulldogs at home on Friday, August 31.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0839.