When you’re new on the job, you face everything with fresh eyes.
Especially when they’re big tasks.
At the end of his first year as athletics director at East Valley, Alec Vermaire faced two big challenges: replace the school’s football coach and boys basketball coach.
Adam Fisher, EV’s long-time football coach, stepped down after his adopted son, Rodrick Fisher, played his final season at the prep level and departed for Washington State – where he already is in the mix for playing time at wide receiver.
The school also parted ways with boys basketball coach Justin Wilson after a three-win season.
“I wasn’t totally surprised by Adam,” Vermaire said. “I think his priorities changed and I wasn’t at all surprised by him wanting to invest his time in watching Rodrick play college football instead of putting all that time into the football team.
“With basketball, that was a different situation. That was a parting of the ways and us wanting to go in a new direction.”
Vermaire said the district took its time in the hiring process, making sure it knew what teaching positions it had open before actively searching for candidates.
Building on success
Former North Central coach Tom Griggs was hired as the football coach and he’s already hit the ground running. Griggs spearheaded a week-long summer camp and the team attended a day of training at Eastern Washington.
“Every coach likes to focus on numbers,” Griggs said. “I was pleased with the numbers we had for the camp. We had a solid 40 kids at our camp and we took 32 kids to Eastern. We came in a little late to start with, but I felt that was a good number and I’m sure we’re going to have more kids out in the fall.”
Griggs said he was looking for the right opportunity for his next coaching assignment after stops at Riverside and Rochester High near Olympia.
“I wanted to find a place where you have your own stadium to play in and you have the chance to have an impact on the whole program – the middle school all the way down to the peewees,” he said. “We’re already having those conversations – we just met with the peewee coaches.
“We’re going to build a program where we speak with one voice and approach the game with the same mindset.”
Griggs wants to build on the foundation that Fisher left behind. Athletes have always been encouraged to participate in individual football skills camps as a way of improving themselves and many had already made those arrangements before the new coach arrived.
“And the parents have been incredible,” he said. “When we did the Eastern camp, the mothers brought us lunch and fed us like kings. I think they made so many sandwiches that they took two boxes of them home.”
Hired for a change
Jeremy Knee joins the staff after coaching middle and high school basketball in Scottsdale, Arizona.
“We moved up here a year ago and I spent that time looking at different programs in hopes that I could land a spot on a staff somewhere,” Knee said. “East Valley was one of the programs I targeted and I saw them play a number of times last year. I was surprised to get the chance to run the program right off the bat, but I’m excited at the opportunity.”
Knee said he found motivation hanging in the gym’s rafters.
“You look up there and there’s only one banner for boys basketball,” he said. “It’s from 1968. Aside from boys tennis, which doesn’t have a banner hanging up there at all, boys basketball is the least-represented sport here.”
That, in a nutshell, is what Knee was hired to change.
“That’s what I saw on the floor last year when I saw East Valley play,” he said. “I saw a team where there were some fundamental skills that the team just didn’t have.”
The interview for the position was comprehensive.
“It was a seven-person panel interview and there were a lot of questions,” Knee said. “One of the questions they asked was that the program won just three games last year and how did I plan to improve on that?
“I told them that it wasn’t just that they only won three games. You have to look at how many of those losses were by double-digit margins. There were only four games that were within 10 points. They were getting blown out. We’re going to bridge that gap.”
Knee took over the program on June 1 and already has had camp to get to know his players. EV has participated in the summer league at West Valley.
“Our first game there, we played Gonzaga Prep,” Knee said. “Needless to say, we got our hat handed to us.”
He has planned skill development sessions to help install a foundation of fundamentals.
“I am a coach and I like to coach constantly,” Knee said. “I coach all the time in practice and in games, my chair and my backside never get to know one another. I’m high energy and get excited when my players make plays.”
EV has long had a tradition of encouraging athletes to play many sports. Football players invariably feed into the school’s wrestling and basketball programs, which in turn feed into track and field, baseball and soccer.
Both new coaches look to continue that tradition.
Griggs said he was looking forward to meeting with Knee this week to see if there was a role he can play with the football program to help enhance the school’s long-time emphasis on multiple-sport participation.