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Herb Criner left lasting legacy with Coeur d’Alene football

Herb Criner appropriately finished his coaching career and life as a state champion.

Criner, who coached the Coeur d’Alene football team to a state championship in 1982, died Saturday morning. He was 81.

Criner was an assistant coach last fall for his son, Scott, the head coach at Rocky Mountain High near Boise. Rocky Mountain captured the State 5A title last fall.

When he died, Criner was at University Hospital in Salt Lake City where he had undergone successful heart surgery March 25. But soon afterward he developed intestinal and liver complications and kidney failure.

Criner moved to Coeur d’Alene in 1980 from California, taking over a rebuilding job for then the lone high school in town. The school didn’t have a weight room and he implemented one. In 1982, CdA went 12-0. In his five seasons, the Vikings were 43-14.

His 1983 team finished 9-4 and lost in the state final.

“It was an honor to have the opportunity to coach with him and be counted as a friend,” said Larry Schwenke, a former assistant for Criner at CdA who served as the school’s athletic director for several years before retiring. “He had that knack of endearing himself to people, and he always had time for you.”

Ken Schneberger started on the 1982 and ’83 teams at defensive back. He said Criner left a mark on his teammates that extends to today.

“As a football coach, his knowledge was second to none. He knew everything there was about football,” said Schneberger, who lives in CdA and owns a concrete business. “He always put his arm around you, hugged you and asked how you were doing. He was a dad away from home, a father figure. We were fortunate to have him in our neck of the woods.”

Schneberger recalled about 170 kids turned out for football in 1983.

“It was incredible. That was because of the program he built,” Schneberger said. “We always had great athletes before him, but it never amounted to anything until he got to Coeur d’Alene.”

Criner left CdA to become the running backs and kickers coach at Boise State University. He coached for Lyle Setencich and Skip Hall before moving into athletic administration. He was an assistant to Gene Bleymaier for 17 years.

The year after Criner left CdA, the Vikings won another state title.

An Arkansas native, Criner had a grandfatherly touch when he arrived at CdA along with a folksy down-home personality. His approach was contagious, and he rallied the community around the program.

He spent the last three years coaching with his son.

“Coaching with dad was a dream come true,” Scott said in a statement posted on Twitter. “He is why I wanted to be a coach. He was my hero. He was my best friend aside from Leslie (his wife). I learned so much about football, life and how to be a good man. I will be coaching next season with a heavy heart.”

Others passed along comments on other social media.

“Many people come in and out of our lives, but only a few leave footprints on our hearts,” Skip Hall said on Facebook. “Herb was one of those. A good coach but more importantly a good man, husband and father.”

Another one of Criner’s former players at CdA posted a comment on Facebook.

“Before Coach Criner came to Coeur d’Alene, we didn’t have a weight room, we had old worn out uniforms and a losing record,” Todd Panabaker said. “One of the first things he organized was a first-class weight facility, new uniforms and something that money can’t buy – his heart and love for football and for us his players. That love won us over and it influenced me the rest of my life.”

A memorial service will be held in the Boise area on June 3.

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