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Prep Notebook

Ex-coach Walker content with seat in stands

If Larry Walker misses daily doubles, wind sprints and blocking drills, he's not letting on.

For the second fall in 35 years, Walker won't be patrolling the sidelines on Friday or Saturday nights. There's no sorting out the fullbacks from tackles, no eligibility checks, no pep talks.

You might think a fellow whose teams have won 246 football games at St. Mary's and South Medford would be reaching for that whistle and clipboard by force of habit. But the 59-year-old science teacher has happily passed the South Medford baton to Bill Singler and will watch from the stands.

For one of the few times since he was an assistant coach for Bill Stewart at Illinois Valley in 1963, Walker isn't worried about Friday night's opponent, bumps and bruises or who's eligible to play.

I've been through close to 40 daily doubles and it's nothing a person would miss, Walker says. I miss the kids and coaches. But that's something behind you now. I haven't had any qualms or regrets.

Walker kind of stumbled into coaching, but left ranked No. 5 on Oregon's all-time high school wins list.

I just kind of raised my hand when somebody asked if I was willing to help out with football, Walker says.

Illinois Valley went 7-2 in 1963 and finished second in the Rogue Valley League behind Phoenix, which went on to win the state championship. Illinois Valley never was closer to making the playoffs before or since.

That was probably the best football team to that time Illinois Valley had, Walker says, but it didn't have anything to do with me.

Walker took a job at Evergreen High in Vancouver, Wash., the next year. After sitting out the football season to concentrate on classroom duties for a year, he oversaw defensive linemen for Evergreen coach Chuck Solberg, who went on to build a powerhouse at Corvallis.

Then, prior to the 1967 season, Walker got a call from St. Mary's High in Medford. Bill Stewart, his coaching mentor at Illinois Valley, had put in a good word for Walker.

Bill had been talking to the St. Mary's principal, who made the statement that he needed someone to teach math and coach football, Walker recalls. Bill told him he knew a nice young man that fit the mold -- and he's Catholic.

St. Mary's hired Walker with Stewart's endorsement and the Crusaders went on to win seven state championships in his tenure.

I wondered what I got myself into when I first got there, Walker admits. I was in over my head -- even at St. Mary's for a while.

the end of his 18-year St. Mary's tenure, Walker had amassed one of the best winning percentages in state history with a 171-22-2 record.

In the fall of 1984, a Mail Tribune story noted: Some day when they gather around the fire to exchange tales of Larry Walker's accomplishments at St. Mary's High, he's going to loom bigger than his 6-foot-4 frame.

The principal-math and science teacher-athletic director-football coach has succeeded where some might simply have endured.

That has proven true. St. Mary's has made just two playoff appearances since Walker's departure.

We normally got half of the boys in the school -- 50 counting freshmen -- out, Walker recalls. Things just change; but that doesn't necessarily mean it's not for the best.

Walker left St. Mary's in 1985 and was a member of Norm Musser's coaching staff when Medford High won the state title before the North/South split. He took the reins at South the next fall and three times guided teams to the state quarterfinals. His 1988 squad had the talent to win it all, but a few bad bounces let eventual state champion Benson escape with a 12-7 win.

The flow of talent that marked his early years at South dried up in recent seasons and the Panthers struggled, falling to 1-8 last in 1997.

It would've been nice to go out 8-1 instead of 1-8, Walker says. But when that happens, it's time to step aside and give someone else a chance.

South Medford play-by-play man Joe Brett attempted to lure Walker into the radio booth. Walker declined.

Maybe in a couple years, Walker says. But that's not likely. I might say something that couldn't be printed in the paper or heard on the radio.

I've missed the social aspect of Friday nights, going to dinner and then going to a game. I'm just going to go sit in the stands and keep my mouth shut.