A year or so ago Bill Diedrick was contemplating semi-retirement in San Diego following three nomadic decades as a college and professional assistant football coach.
But a phone call from a friend and ex-college teammate detoured him – back to his home town and into the Greater Spokane League following a 28-year absence with his hiring as head coach at University.
Why, you might wonder? Diedrick didn’t have a ready answer other than “because”.
After spending a year at Indiana State he said: “I was getting on a plane to head out to Thanksgiving here. (A friend) texted me that the U-Hi job had opened up. I said I’d been away a long time, but ‘who’s the A.D.?’ and called Ken VanSickle and said I understood the job was available. He said, ‘You’re not interested – are you?’ ”
Diedrick is one of three new coaches coming full circle into a league where just four of 11 have been at the helm a decade or more.
It’s difficult to fathom that Adam Fisher is now entering his 10th year as head coach at East Valley and is fourth in seniority. He said more emphasis seems to have been placed on the game since his hiring.
Six have four years or fewer with their programs. Diedrick is just another link in a close-knit fraternity. He coached Rogers between 1975 and ’81 before embarking on his college and professional odyssey.
Former Lewis and Clark assistant Dave Hughes has swapped places with Tom Yearout and taken over the reins. U-Hi offensive coordinator Joe Turman, passed over for Titans head coach, is now coaching the line at LC.
Brian Gardner, a recent North Central assistant, is the new Indians head coach, replacing Grady Emmerson, who now is the defensive coordinator at Ferris. And last year’s defensive coordinator at East Valley, U-Hi teacher Rob Bartlett, returns to the Titans, joining Diedrick’s staff in the same capacity.
With his background in the Pac-10, at Notre Dame and the Canadian pros, Diedrick’s return adds further cachet to GSL football, which has grown in stature the past few years.
The season opens Thursday at Joe Albi Stadium with two-time defending GSL champ and state semifinalist Ferris playing North Central. The Saxons return a wealth of experience.
“The bonus of being in the playoffs is it’s given us four extra weeks of practice,” fourth-year coach Jim Sharkey said. “The younger kids are a little bit ahead and we’ve kind of got everything in and are working on it a little bit earlier than in the past.”
Central Valley and East Valley reached the final eight of their respective 4A and 3A state playoffs and Mt. Spokane, with virtually its entire lineup back, was a state qualifier.
“We ended up losing five games and in all those we had a realistic chance to win,” Wildcats coach Mike McLaughlin said. “We have 18 or 19 players with starting experience that have been there before. Whether that translates into a better team we’ll find out.”
The Wildcats and Mead open Friday at Joe Albi Stadium at 8 p.m., in a reprise of their one-touchdown thriller won by the Panthers last season. Mead has talent in the skill positions and will be tough again if it fills the line.
Gonzaga Prep may have been the league’s best team at season’s end last year and Lewis and Clark was perhaps an injury away from returning to the post-season. They have the league’s two most electrifying backs in Bishop Sankey (G-Prep) and Levi Taylor.
Add University to the mix with a seasoned team and lettered coach.
“It’s been a fun process setting everything up going back to June when we could start working with kids,” Diedrick said.
He had several camps throughout the course of summer to familiarize himself with the players and install a new system. Most of his assistants, with extensive backgrounds, are in-building now.
Returning to high school took an adjustment, he said, particularly the size differential he faced when wooing middle school youngsters rather than college athletes.
“You’re not just teaching concepts, but ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ and sometimes, yes, it can be overwhelming,” Diedrick said. “But I really believe that kids can do what you expect them to if you demand it and they expect it of themselves.”
Welcome back to the GSL.