When Rick Giampietri started his football coaching career, it was a different game.
On the national stage in 1969, the National Football League and the American Football League had yet to merge, a move that would happen a year later. Vince Lombardi was beginning his lone season as head coach of Washington, helping the team in the nation’s capital snap a 14-year losing streak by going 7-5-2, but would be dead from colon cancer a year later.
In college football, Woody Hayes’ Ohio State was the preseason No. 1 and the Buckeyes remained in that position until Nov. 22, when they were upset by Michigan, 24-12, leaving the door open for Darrell Royal’s Texas Longhorns to win the national title by beating Ara Parseghian and Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl, 21-17.
Beginning his 17th season as head coach of the Central Valley Bears, Giampietri is, by far, the dean of Greater Spokane League high school coaches. He was named GSL Coach of the Year after leading his team to a share of the league title a year ago.
“Back in those (early) days, back when I first started coaching, you never saw your players from the day school let out until the first day of football practice,” he laughs. “You didn’t have all these camps to go to and all the conditioning programs you have today. Today you can’t compete without things like that.”
The game may have changed, but Central Valley has been blessed with a long history of stability.
“My coaching staff has been with me a long, long time,” Giampietri said. “I think we’ve got things pretty well figured out.
“I have coaches on my staff who have been head coaches themselves and they’ve all been with me forever.”
Sam Giampietri, the coach’s brother and former head coach at Chewelah, among other schools, and Pat Pfeifer, former head coach at Ferris, both have longer coaching pedigrees than the head coach – both entering their 44th season coaching football.
Defensive coordinator Steve Kent joined the staff after serving as head football coach at his alma mater, West Valley. He’s beginning his 34th season as a coach.
Former head track coach Steve Bernard also is in his 34th season as a football coach.
Having Pfeifer on the sidelines this season is a pleasant surprise.
“We almost lost Pat a couple years ago to pancreatic cancer,” Giampietri said. “I thought we were going to lose him over the summer. I visited him in the hospital and I thought there was no way he was going to make it out of the hospital, let alone make it to practice.
“(Tuesday) he was there for both practices of our two-a-day. It’s just incredible. He sits back there in his wheelchair and charts everything. As soon as practice is over, he can tell you just exactly where everyone is and what they did.”
This year’s Central Valley team may be short on experience, the coach said, but it has athletes.
“I think we’re going to have a pretty good line on both sides of the ball,” he said. “We’re going to have a bunch of first-year senior starters, I think, and we’ll just have to see who of them is going to step up and make some plays for us.
“One player who has really stepped up has been (senior) Keegan Shea, who was primarily a junior varsity player last year. He’s shown just great leadership so far and is really leading the team. He’s playing tight end and linebacker.”
Another player to catch the coach’s eye thus far has been senior kicker Jake Miller.
“He was behind Blaze Vela the past two years, but I think he’s going to have a premier year this year,” the coach said. “He rated well at all the kicking camps and he has a chance to go play somewhere in college if the opportunity presents itself.
“He kicked a 52-yard field goal in practice the other day. Last year Blaze kicked a 57-yarder in practice and then Jake turned around and kicked one, too, the same day. He’s got a great leg.”
The Bears open the season at home against Rogers and play host to University, under first-year coach Bill Diedrick, in their second game.
“Bill and I played high school football together,” Giampietri said. “We were roommates our junior year at Eastern.”
Diedrick coached at a string of colleges and in the Canadian Football League after getting his start as head coach at Rogers from 1976 through 1981.
“If he comes out and punts on third down, we’ll know he hasn’t made the transition from the CFL,” Giampietri said with a laugh.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing East Valley coach Adam Fisher is declining enrollment.
“As a district, our enrollment is down and that means there are just a lot fewer kids walking the halls to draw from and that hits us as football players,” he said. “We get a good share of the kids who are there, but there just aren’t as many to choose from.
“When you’re in a league where you have to play schools like Lewis and Clark and Mead that have great numbers year in and year out, that puts you at a disadvantage. Where they have depth and can sub players in and out to keep them rested, our kids have to stay in there and compete.”
The Knights knocked off Mt. Spokane twice a year ago to claim the league’s top Class 3A playoff berth, despite starting with just one win in their first three games.
“I’m hoping we learned from that experience and we don’t let games slip away from us,” Fisher said. “This year we have a lot of new kids – we graduated 10 of 11 starters on defense, for example, and we have a lot of new items that we’re working on. Even with the new faces, we’re making good progress each day.”
Fisher said he wasn’t sure what to expect from his squad going into summer camp.
“We have 19 seniors,” he said. “We got to the Eastern Washington University summer camp and we excelled more than I anticipated. We’ve been building each week.”
Fisher said he feels good about his offensive line, despite losing all-league lineman Nate Guthrie, now playing at Whitworth.
“I think we’re going to be OK on the line,” Fisher said. “Our skill kids will be all new. Our running backs are all new, we’ll have a new quarterback and new receivers. Right now we have five senior tailbacks and one pretty good junior, so we actually have six viable options when it comes to running the ball. A lot of those guys will also start on defense, so we may be shuffling kids in and out.”
When Diedrick walked into his first GSL coaches meeting this past week, he was welcomed heartily.
“He sat down and (Mt. Spokane coach) Mike McLaughlin told him ‘Welcome to the big time, Bill,’ ” Giampietri remembered.
With a coaching pedigree that includes coaching stops at Washington, Washington State and Stanford in the Pac-10, Notre Dame and the Canadian Football League and a NCAA Division I-AA national championship over 28 years, Diedrick does indeed return to the big time of high school football.
With a reputation for installing high-powered passing games and grooming quarterbacks from Drew Bledsoe to Marques Tuiasosopo to Brady Quinn, Diedrick has installed a veritable buzz of excitement around the Titan program.
“I think we’re walking pretty good,” Diedrick said. “You start out crawling and hope to get to where you can sprint at some point. I think the kids are making good progress and they’re excited about what we’re going to do.”
Veteran quarterback Tony Tabish is the coach’s latest star pupil.
“A number of kids have been pretty constant through camp,” Diedrick said. “Tony is beginning to get a good feel and understanding of the system.”
Junior Thomas Wakem, took, has caught the coach’s eye.
“He’s doing a great job leading the defense,” Diedrick said. “He’s flying around back there and making plays. That’s what you want to see.”
The Titans open the season Friday at Joe Albi Stadium against Shadle Park. What can fans expect to see from the new U-Hi regime?
“Hopefully you’ll not see a lot of errors,” Diedrick laughed. “That’s what you always want for an opener. I hope that, when people come out, they will be able to see guys that are able to make some plays and be exciting and entertaining for the fans.
“(Excitement) is the one thing that we’ve really tried to stress and inject into them. Excitement can become pretty contagious. You have a couple kids get it and then more and more buy into it and, pretty soon, it’s like that big old snowball going downhill – it keeps gathering momentum.”