Remove the interim tag - it's official.
Rich Sjoroos is now the fourth head coach of the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears football program, following in the footsteps of Dave Haynie (1990-'97), Riley Richey (1998-2004) and Bill Chalmers (2005 through the start of '09), who retired early last season after health concerns kept him from being with the team on a full-time basis.
Sjoroos, 40, who has been an assistant at JDHS since 2001, said he figured out he wanted to be a coach after attending college and playing football for a year at Eastern Oregon University, where he graduated in 1993.
"I always butted heads with the coaches and I always thought I knew more than they did," he laughed. "So I should have known back then that I was meant to be a coach."
After returning to Juneau from Oregon, Sjoroos' old youth coach asked him to help out with the local teams. He was hesitant to take over a team and just wanted to assist at first.
"So I showed up at Sandy Beach - there were two Douglas teams back then - and there were two groups of kids, a younger group and an older group," he said. "My youth coach wasn't there but his son was, and he looked at me and said, 'Which team do you want?'
"So I ended up being a head coach from day one."
Sjoroos worked with freshman-age kids from 1993 to 2000, when he moved up to the JV level at JDHS. In 2003, he joined the varsity as offensive coordinator.
"I still have the video from the first game I coached," he said of his youth league experience. "I was running up and down the sidelines like a mad man, yelling at everybody and getting them all excited. It's just amazing that after all these years, I still have the same enthusiasm for it.
"That tells you that you're doing something you really enjoy."
Sjoroos thanked his mentors for preparing him for this day.
"I got a chance to work with Riley those first years, and he taught me a lot about team chemistry, team bonding - the behind-the-scenes stuff," he explained. "With Chalmers, I've been able to mature a lot. He's a very calming presence and with him, I've seen how you can keep your emotions inside a little more and still have a positive influence on kids. You don't have to be yelling and screaming all the time to get your point across.
"I feel comfortable that I've had these great guys to work with," he continued. "And I've been surrounded by guys like Eddie Brakes and Al Fenumiai, just great coaches all through the years. And now I'm in that role where I get to have trust in the other guys."
Brakes has since left the program, though Fenumiai remains the defensive coordinator. Filling out the staff is Phil Isaak, who is taking over at offensive coordinator after serving as an offensive assistant last year, defensive coach Mark Ibias, and Nick Lammi, a trainer and the offensive and defensive lines coach. Coaching the JV team will be Angelo Katase and C.J. Keys.
Sjoroos said Juneau will continue to see a model program that will continue to compete at the state level.
"My biggest philosophy is just having a group of kids that work together, and we want a team that the community is proud of," he said. "In Anchorage, it's so big there you don't get that sense of the community with their teams. You go to their games, and they don't get nearly the crowd that we do, even though they have 10 times as many people that live there."
Sjoroos also wants to lead by example and practice what he preaches.
"It's important to walk the talk. I don't drink, I don't smoke," he said. "I want the players to see, 'Well, Coach doesn't do that stuff, maybe I shouldn't do it either.' That's another philosophy of mine when it comes to building a team."
Sjoroos' schemes will be fluid from year to year to fit the players he has, as opposed to trying to put a square peg in a round hole.
"It's not a one-size-fits all (philosophy)," he explained. "Last year, we were back to running the ball again and this year, we've got all these good receivers. So I wouldn't be surprised to see us throwing the ball around a little more. Being able to adapt to the kids you have is an important part of coaching if you want to have success."
"Our numbers are down to about 50, but you know those kids are solid," he continued. "You know they're going to show up every day and be dedicated. And that's what you get with Juneau football."
Practice begins July 2, and the first game is Aug. 7 against South Anchorage.
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