North Medford High wrestling coach Phillip Lopez isn't the type to get carried away.
EAGLE POINT — Citing a desire to go in "a new direction," Eagle Point High administrators did not renew Jacob Schauffler's contract as head coach of the football program in a surprising move recently that caught many off guard, including Schauffler.
"In my estimation we had a pretty good football season in terms of wins and losses and things that we could do," said Schauffler, who was informed of the decision in a Jan. 10 meeting with Eagle Point Principal Tim Rupp and Athletic Director/Assistant Principal Bryan Wood.
The Eagles finished fifth in the Midwestern League, as predicted in a preseason coaches poll, with a 3-4 league mark and were 5-5 overall in 2012. In five seasons at Eagle Point, Schauffler posted a 21-28 overall record and 10-13 ledger in conference play.
His teams just missed advancing to the Class 5A state playoffs in each of the past four seasons, falling one win shy the past three years after losing out on a tiebreaker in 2009 for the school's first playoff berth since 1997. The Eagles beat Ashland 28-20 in the season finale that year; a nine-point win would have secured a playoff spot.
Schauffler also spearheaded a $1.2 million project that led to the installation of artificial turf at Eagle Stadium, receiving considerable assistance from the Eagle Point Booster Club, school board member Ted Dole and the Salem-based Community Sports Development Council, Inc. The CSD Council provided about $700,000 toward the project after approving Schauffler's grant request last March.
"At this point we are just kinda looking to go in a little bit of a new direction," Wood said of the decision to remove Schauffler from the football position. "We appreciate Jacob and everything he is and has done in Eagle Point and look forward to continuing to work with him, but for football we're looking to go in a different direction."
When asked exactly what direction that might be, Wood said he was starting to explore those possibilities and would see what job applications come in and evaluate from there. The varsity football head coaching position was posted on Thursday and the listing will continue to run for a few more weeks.
"We just want something different at this point, nothing I really have a lot to comment on as far as that goes," said Wood. "Obviously we're going to keep that open and work on it in the building and try to get the best coach at this point we can for our kids."
Schauffler, who also teaches social studies and weightlifting classes at the high school, said Wood had been "very supportive of me and the direction I'm taking the program" in previous meetings, which was another reason the turn of events caught him off guard.
It's Schauffler's belief that his role in the Eagle Point employees strike last May sealed his fate as football coach. He was one of more than 250 employees that went on strike for eight days in May — the largest strike in Oregon since 1987 — before an agreement was made with the Eagle Point School District after more than 14 months of bargaining.
"I did ask for a reason twice in the meeting and they basically just told me they wanted to go in a different direction," said Schauffler, 34. "They didn't give me any reason, and they didn't give me any reason to believe that it wasn't because of the strike."
"That's my belief but I don't know for sure, and like I said, nobody has told me anything," he added.
It would be against the law to let someone go because they participated in a strike, and Schauffler acknowledged that all coaching contracts are on a year-to-year basis and up to the administration's discretion on whether they are renewed.
When asked if the strike had anything to do with the decision to remove Schauffler as football coach, Wood said: "Absolutely not. I have great respect for Jacob and I feel 100 percent he has the same for me. This was simply a football decision."
"We get put in situations to make decisions and those are things that are not shared decisions," he added. "Personnel issues are personnel issues and I think the world of Jacob, and he knows that, and sometimes you've just got to move on."
For Schauffler, the opportunity to come back and be head coach at his alma mater was "a dream come true" when he was chosen in 2008 to replace Harry Hedrick, who was 25-32 in six seasons with the Eagles. A star running back and linebacker, Schauffler graduated from Eagle Point in 1997 and was a key contributor when the team was state runner-up in 1995.
After playing football and graduating from Western Oregon University, Schauffler returned to his roots and again called Eagle Point home in 2002. He spent three years commuting to Rogue River and then three more to Phoenix as defensive coordinator at both schools before getting his big chance at Eagle Point.
"Mark Helfrich recently talked about Oregon being his dream job as a football coach and Eagle Point High was my dream job and the only one I wanted once I became a football coach," said Schauffler, "and now I don't get to do that anymore. That's hard for me to deal with."
Despite his removal as football coach, Schauffler said he is pleased to still be able to give back to his hometown community as a teacher and wishes nothing but the best for whoever the district chooses to take over the football program.
Wood said he will lead a five- to seven-person search committee that will include current coaches on staff, board members, teachers and members of the community. There currently is no time frame to fill the position.
"Obviously we always would like to get it decided as quickly as we can," said Wood, "but right now we're at the mercy of the process with the district and budgets and finding out what positions are available outside of coaching."
"More important," he added, "is that we get the right person right now."