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Two winners in coach carousel

Commentary by Randy Hammericksen

Jeff Olson deserved a break.

He may have received a career-maker this week.

The longtime loyal Southern Oregon University football coach was one of the biggest winners in the decision by Jim Nagel to remain at Ashland High. For two years, Nagel said he would take over the Raiders' football program this summer. Now, he'll stay at Ashland High as the football coach and athletic director.

All of that happened on a wild and crazy Tuesday as two local schools postured for the good of their football teams.

Olson, 37, the interim head coach at SOU for two years, was quickly offered the position of head coach by President Stephen Reno and athletic director Monty Cartwright one day after Nagel opted to stay at Ashland High. Olson accepted the position quickly and graciously on Wednesday.

I had no clue all of this was going to happen, says Olson. I was completely surprised.

All of a sudden, I get a chance to do what I want to do. But I know the pressure is on. When I was interim coach, I didn't feel as much pressure because I knew it was going to be over in two years.

Now it will be Olson guiding the Raiders' ship and Olson who will be blamed if things don't go right.

There are challenges for us out there, like new league and national affiliations, and competing, says Olson. We need a strong commitment by everybody to be successful, no matter what direction we go.

I feel that strong commitment from the administration. It's my job to get it from my players. All I can say is I'm very grateful for this chance. The kids seem positive about it, and we move onward and upward from here.

Nagel, one of the best high school football coaches in state history, cited personal and financial reasons for his decision to stay at Ashland. He also admitted letting go of the Ashland program he built so artfully over the years was harder than he imagined.

That's understandable, not only for financial reasons, but also because of the incredible community support and pride his football program has generated in recent years.

Ashland High football fans, players and administrators rejoiced over Nagel's decision.

I was certainly pleased when I heard it on the news, said Ashland school board chairman Alan DeBoer. I think it's a great thing for the youth of our community. He's a great coach and a great role model.

Meanwhile, Olson, who coached SOU to a 9-9 record in his interim stint, received similar accolades upon taking over permanently.

After coaching SOU, it became clear to Olson he wanted to be a college head coach. He thought he would have to leave Ashland to do it.

One of the best things is they can take the interim tag off my title, and I get to stay and be a head coach right here says Olson.

You want to see nice guys succeed in any aspect of life. Olson seems on his way.

Bill Singler, SOU's offensive coordinator, agrees.

Jeff's a great coach and he has complete respect of the players, says Singler. He's been so loyal to this school, and he did a great job as coach the last two years. He deserves this, and I'm happy for him.Randy Hammericksen is a Mail Tribune sports columnist.

He can be reached at 776-4499, or by e-mail at