North Medford High wrestling coach Phillip Lopez isn't the type to get carried away.
Forced out as the head football coach at Eagle Point High in January, Jacob Schauffler wasn't sure what direction he would go in the early aftermath of what was a disheartening situation for the hometown boy.
Turns out, the direction was slightly west for the Eagle Point native.
Schauffler will make official today what has been in the works for a few months when he signs on to become the new head football coach at Hidden Valley High in Murphy. He will also teach mathematics and weightlifting classes at the Class 4A high school.
"It was kind of a weird road, I guess, to get here but I'm happy with the way things have worked out," Schauffler said Monday. "I'm excited and a little bit reinvigorated in a lot of ways."
"It's just a breath of fresh air and a wonderful new opportunity," he added. "The day that I told them I would take the job was an extremely sad day because it meant leaving Eagle Point, but an exciting day as well because I really feel like I'm getting a second chance."
In a January meeting with Eagle Point administrators, Schauffler was informed that the school wanted to go in "a new direction" and would not be renewing his contract as football coach. No further details were provided in the reasoning to remove Schauffler, who in five seasons at Class 5A Eagle Point posted a 21-28 overall record and 10-13 ledger in conference play. The Eagles were 5-5 overall and 3-4 in Midwestern League play this past season.
"I think anybody would have a sour taste the way everything happened," he said. "I think the thing that's most disappointing for me is the fact that Eagle Point has been my home my entire life. When I came to Eagle Point I never thought I would ever be leaving, but you never know what can happen and how things work out."
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 last summer 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.
Eagle Point has yet to name a successor to Schauffler but it is believed an announcement could be coming as early as Wednesday.
Word slowly trickled out about Schauffler's move to Hidden Valley in the past week, and the 34-year-old coach said he's been overwhelmed by the level of support he's received from those in his hometown.
"I still have extremely good feelings for this place," he said. "Everybody that I've talked to so far in Eagle Point has been nothing but supportive and happy for me. I think in a lot of ways that just goes to show my commitment to this community and the relationships you build, and that if you treat people the right way, they want you to have success no matter where you go."
At Hidden Valley, Schauffler takes over a football program that has been led the past 19 years by Jim Figoni and has seen only two head coaches at the school since 1984. The Mustangs posted a 5-4 overall record and 2-3 mark in Skyline Conference play, finishing in a tie for third place but losing out on a playoff bid by virtue of a tiebreaking loss to Mazama.
The Mustangs' last season with more than five wins came in 2008, when they were 7-3 and conference runners-up. Their last playoff win came in 2007, but the Mustangs reached the state quarterfinals in 2005 and '06.
Schauffler will get a further lesson in Hidden Valley history tonight when he hosts a football social at the school to get to know his new players and their parents, but he's well aware of the big shoes he has to fill in replacing Figoni, who is the new offensive line coach at North Medford High.
"I really feel like the administration over there wants to move things in the right direction for all their programs," said Schauffler. "If you look at what they've been able to do the last couple years in baseball and the success Jim Figoni had, it's really a great opportunity. I guess there's always concern when you take over and here's some young guy coming in. It's one of those things where I feel like I've got to come in and win some people over right away."
Schauffler's first task was winning over the support of Hidden Valley Athletic Director Jamie Ongman, who was a teammate at Western Oregon University but didn't hesitate to ask tough questions in gauging why EP had severed ties with the coach and whether HV would make a good fit for his services.
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 before an agreement was made with the Eagle Point School District after more than 14 months of bargaining. Eagle Point administrators have disputed that claim.
The hiring process was an eye-opening one for Schauffler, too, because he and his wife Natoshua were not initially willing to consider leaving Eagle Point. The couple still have a home there and family ties to the area but will be checking the housing market in hopes of making the transition to the Murphy area.
"One of our goals was to sell our house within the next year and buy some property because my wife and I both grew up out in the country and wanted something like that for our kids," said Schauffler, whose daughters are 7, 4 and 1. "We said all along that we didn't want to move (from Eagle Point) but in the end it just came down to the fact that I had this opportunity. I had a few meetings and we visited the area and we both really felt like it was a good fit. The area reminds me a lot of Eagle Point when I was growing up."
"It was a tough decision to make," he added, "but ultimately I think it's going to be the right decision for myself and my family. Even though it's bittersweet to leave Eagle Point, I think the possibilities at Hidden Valley are endless and I'm excited to get started."