Grants Pass High School announced on Wednesday the hiring of John Musser as its new football coach.

Grants Pass High School announced on Wednesday the hiring of John Musser as its new football coach.

Musser, 34, a Henley High graduate and former player at Southern Oregon University, has been an assistant with the Cavemen for 11 years, serving the last six of those as defensive coordinator.

Musser will replace Tom Blanchard, who stepped down two weeks ago after guiding the program for 18 seasons.

"John knows the expectations of this community," said Blanchard, who remains the athletic director at GP. "We did not need to open the job up to the outside. John's been basically interviewing with me for the last 12 years."

Musser discussed the possibility of him someday stepping in as coach with Blanchard three years ago.

"I told him that when he's ready to retire I'd like to be considered for this position," said Musser. "I've been chomping at the bit for this opportunity. Tom has included me the last couple years in head coaching types of things. I'm not sure if preparing is the right word, but I think coordinating the defense has given me a little taste of what head coaching is like."

Musser, a special education teacher at Grants Pass High, has guided a defense that has ranked near or at the top in the Southwest and Southern Oregon Conference the last few years.

He will continue to coordinate the defense and will leave the offensive play calling to Tommy Blanchard, son of Tom Blanchard, and offensive line coach Jared Gail.

"I will add some input on offense," Musser said. "Only from the vantage point of this is what hurts us (defensively) and this is what we don't like to see (from opposing offenses)."

Tom Blanchard resigned his head coaching duties in 1999, then came back in the same capacity in 2004.

"When I came back, I knew it was short term," said Blanchard. "We wanted to get somebody that was young and excited for this position.

"The last four years I've kinda known that John had a good opportunity to step in when the time came. It has certainly worked out and I have full confidence in his abilities as head coach."

Musser played linebacker at Henley High, then switched to defensive end in his first season at Southern Oregon University (known then as Southern Oregon State College). He settled in at defensive tackle by the end of his time with the Raiders and was named to the all-Columbia Football Association honorable mention team his senior season.

Musser spent one season after graduating from SOU as an assistant with Southern Oregon under then interim coach Jeff Olson. He then took a teaching position at Grants Pass High and spent the next few years coaching the freshmen and junior varsity squads.

Last year, Musser led a defensive unit that was second in the SWC in both total and scoring defense behind state-champion Sheldon.

"He knows his defense," Tom Blanchard said of Musser, "and he knows football all the way through. This team is in good hands."

The Cavemen lose several pieces off their 8-4 run this season that resulted in a fourth-place finish in the SWC and a trip to the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs. But Grants Pass does return second-team all-SWC running back Criss Bowen, two first-team competitors in offensive tackle Brad Page and linebacker Justin Hannah and second-team defensive players John Tardieu (linebacker) and Ryan Miller (defensive back).

Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 776-4483, or e-mail kgoff@mailtribune.com