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Sports >  High school sports

New voice: Ferris hires veteran assistant coach Malik Roberson for top spot with Saxons

Malik Roberson has been preparing to be a head football coach for a long time.

From his playing days at Lewis and Clark High School, Central Washington University and Washington State, to more than 20 years experience coaching in the college ranks across the region, his résumé is impeccable.

Now, he’ll get the chance to lead his own program.

On Wednesday, Ferris High announced Roberson as its new head coach, replacing veteran coach Tom Yearout, who stepped down from the position. In the process, Roberson becomes the first Black head football coach in Greater Spokane League history.

Roberson has been the Saxons’ defensive coordinator and linebackers coach since 2018. He will also continue working as a counselor at the high school.

“I’m very excited for the community, for the players and for the school,” Roberson said. “I can’t wait to get to work.”

Yearout, who just completed his fifth season at the helm, will remain with the program in an unspecified role.

“I think it’s the perfect time for a new voice to lead the program,” Yearout said. “I’m confident that Malik’s voice and vision is just what the program needs. That confidence is what led me to believe this is the right time.”

Roberson hopes to bring inclusiveness and communication to the position.

“At this level, a kid wants to feel important and wants to know that they can contribute, no matter what role it is,” he said. “And so, as long as you pay attention to that, manage that, and every kid knows after he leaves the practice field that he’s gotten better and he’s helping the team – I think that’s the most important part of their experience.”

In the works

“Tom has been planning this for some time,” Ferris principal Ken Schutz said. “We were able to get Malik to be a Saxon, and we were able to hire him as a counselor – and that’s been an important hire. But this one is really big for this city and for Ferris.”

Ferris athletic director Stacey Ward hopes Roberson’s presences has a cumulative effect.

“For our kids to come here, and he’s a counselor in our school and he’s a head football coach and the first African American football head coach in Spokane – that’s something that doesn’t go unnoticed by people who are thinking about what their opportunity in the world is.

“To be able to have this candidate in the building – my principal and I started talking about this when we knew that Tom was ready to step aside. And I knew we had the guy in our building.”

Roberson was an assistant coach at Eastern Washington, Washington State, Central Washington and Portland State before joining Ferris.

“You aren’t going find anybody with a résumé, with the experiences that he has,” Schutz said. “For our kids to be able to share those experiences with him too, and what it takes (to succeed) is pretty important for those kids that, you know, want to go on or want to do something, so yeah, you can’t argue with that.”

Yearout is happy to help Roberson in the transition in whatever role the new coach needs.

“I was lucky enough to have John Hook and others take me through it during my first job,” Yearout said of coaching at LC. “I have a sort of a feeling things are coming full circle, and it’s my time to try and do that for someone else.”

Bigger picture

Roberson understands his appointment means more than just X’s and O’s but hasn’t had a chance to dwell on that yet.

“I’m just a football coach who loves the game and who wants to make this program a signature football presence in Spokane. So that’s just how I look at it,” he said.

“But for the people who do like to move in that paradigm, you know, I hope I don’t let them down. I know this is pretty significant.”

Roberson said he’ll be judged on wins and losses like any other coach.

“I just think as day-to-day duties go on, and as the program grows and with all the hard work, that we’ll receive the dividends from the hard work that we’re going to put in. ”

He’s thankful that his chance to lead came in his hometown.

“It means a lot to me,” he said. “One of my decisions of getting out of college football and returning back to Spokane was finding a meaningful way to contribute to the community. Just being from Spokane and what the community has done for me in my life has meant a lot to me, and it’s a very big part of my decision, the direction I wanted to go with my life, and with my family and stuff like that.

“So this is a huge, huge deal for me personally. I’m just looking forward to using this platform to make an impact on students in the community.”

Ward spoke about recent events across the country and the significance of Roberson’s hire.

“All of the conflicts that we have in our society – people trying to find their place in the world. And we have this coach who carries himself with such great dignity, very understated, very much concerned about making the community part of Ferris football – and he knows what this means to the community in Spokane, including the African American community in Spokane.”

Full support

Others with ties to Roberson and Spokane reacted with nothing but high praise for his football experience, but more for the person.

“I’m very happy for Coach Roberson. It’s important that we continue to take positive steps towards greater diversity in football,” University of Washington head coach Jimmy Lake said. “I know Coach Roberson well, and I know that he has everything it takes to be successful.”

Former NFL and Washington State defensive back Erik Coleman played at LC when Roberson was an assistant there.

“When I think of role models for me in Spokane, it was Coach Hook, Coach Yearout and Malik,” he said. “I grew up looking up to him, and he always looked out for me.”

Coleman is proud of his mentor and friend.

“For him to be the first Black coach in the GSL speaks volumes about his character. Playing at LC, coaching around the state, he’s been laying the groundwork for this for a long time.

“Spokane is a mixed community, so this is huge. It’s a great opportunity for him, but also for Ferris and the community at large.”

Post Falls coach Blaine Bennett was head coach at Central Washington when Roberson was defensive coordinator there.

“Malik’s a Spokane guy. He’s had an excellent football background and career,” Bennett said. “For him to get that opportunity is really exciting for him and his family.”

Coleman said aside from the bigger picture, no one is more qualified for the position.

“He deserves this,” he said. “He deserves this opportunity. It’s not about his ethnicity, it’s not about race. It’s about him being the right guy for the job, in my opinion.”

Focus on kids

Roberson has a holistic philosophy to team building.

“When a kid comes into program, he’s going to become a better person as well as a better football player,” he said. “That’s the main focus. It’s powered by offense, defense – you know, that’s how it’s going to end up. But the main focus is for the players. And what they get out of being part of this program.”

Yearout said Roberson is the right person at the right time at Ferris.

“I can’t imagine a better football hire or better person for the program,” he said. “The second part is why I’m really confident that it’s a good time to take a step back.

“I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think we had the right person to expand the vision and I think he’s going to be terrific head coach.”

Roberson said when he was recruiting as a college coach, he leaned on Yearout when getting a handle on the talent to scout in Spokane.

“He knew every kid in the area,” he said. “And that meant a lot, how much he’s invested in the community. That’s kind of the model that I’m going to model myself after as far as being involved and being a part of the community as well.”

Ward understands the challenges of the position and said Roberson has a philosophy about having the top priority making the kids better people and making them good representatives in the community.

“He wants any kid who wants to play football to be able to come here and find a place and make a place and be part of something bigger than them,” she said.

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