After a year away from coaching football, Joe Polamalu is gearing up for his third head coaching job in the Oregon high school ranks.
The 51-year-old, a 1987 graduate of Roseburg High School who played at Oregon State University, was selected to take over the Cottage Grove program. He replaces Chad Smith, who went 0-8 in his lone season with the Class 4A Lions.
Polamalu’s previous head coaching stops included then-4A Douglas (2008-12) and Sandy (2013-18). Sandy was a 5A school before moving up to 6A in 2018.
“(My time at Sandy) was great,” said Polamalu, who lives in Eugene. “It opened up my eyes, I met a lot of great coaches and learned a lot. It was a different environment playing against the likes of West Linn, Wilsonville and Liberty.”
Polamalu compiled a record of 29-30 in six years at Sandy, highlighted by a Northwest Oregon Conference co-title in 2016. He went 40-19 in five seasons at Douglas, winning two Far West League crowns and losing to Baker in the state championship game in 2010.
Polamalu was a counselor this past school year at Roseburg’s Fremont Middle School. He’ll be a counselor at Lincoln Middle School in Cottage Grove.
“It was enjoyable to have time alone, but my wife (Trish) told me I need to get back on the field,” Polamalu said. “She said ‘I’m not going through another fall with you.’ I think I have a few more years (of coaching) in me.”
Cottage Grove has enjoyed football success in the past, winning the 4A state championship in 2017 and finishing as the runner-up in 2016.
“This community is like where I come from (Tenmile),” Polamalu said. “I’ve met some great people so far.”
Polamalu will have plenty of time to prepare for his first season at Cottage Grove. The Oregon School Activities Association announced last week that all fall sports (football, volleyball, soccer and cross country) will be moved to March of 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m an old dog. It’s hard to imagine that (playing in the spring), but because of the situation it’s health first and I’m not going to battle it,” Polamalu said. “It’s going to be different for everybody.”
Polamalu and his wife are empty-nesters now, but are happy to be living in the Willamette Valley and be near their children. One son (Iosefa) attends University of Oregon, another (Talati) attends Georgetown and a daughter (Megan) resides in Eugene. Another son (Paul) lives in Roseburg.
They have three grandchildren.
DAYS CREEK FOOTBALL
Travis Fuller is the Wolves’ new head coach. He replaces David Hunt, who resigned after six years.
Fuller, 30, is a 2009 graduate of Days Creek and was a quarterback for the 1A school that plays eight-man football. He was an assistant under Hunt.
“I’m really excited and grateful for the opportunity,” Fuller said. “I’m glad we’re going to have a season, we have some great kids in the senior class. I feel fortunate to have more time to prepare (due to the pandemic).”
The Wolves lost some key players to graduation, including all-league quarterback Gerritt Wentland. But three players who received all-league honors — running back/linebacker Cauy Jackson, linebacker/end Zane DeGroot and defensive end Keith Gaskell — are tentatively scheduled to return.
Fuller, a teacher’s aide at the school, is also a Douglas County basketball official. He will assist James Ellis in boys basketball.
Hunt, who cited health issues as a reason for stepping down, compiled a record of 39-18. Days Creek finished 9-2 overall in 2019, losing to St. Paul in the state quarterfinals.
Hunt will continue his teaching duties in the district and will remain head coach of the track and field team.
“It was a tough decision (giving up football), but I have to look at my health in the long run,” he said. “It was an awesome experience.”