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SOU to narrow search for next grid coach

Southern Oregon's next head football coach could come from as far away as Florida, or as close as South Mountain Ave.

Southern Oregon athletic director Matt Sayre said Monday that he's received 103 applications for the job that became available after Steve Helminiak was fired on Nov. 15, including "at least 10" from the Rogue Valley and an estimated one-third from the Northwest.

Beyond those figures Sayre declined to name names, saying only that "it's a good mix of qualified candidates from all the coaching realms. We've got high school coaches who have been in the college ranks, and ex-head football coaches from the college ranks, and coordinators from the college ranks."

This week, a 10-person search committee chaired by assistant athletic director Bobby Heiken will narrow the field down to 10-to-12 applicants, who will be interviewed by phone beginning late this week or early next week. Once the finalists are chosen, they will visit the campus for a day-long interview which will include a meeting with SOU president Mary Cullinan and a question-and-answer session with football players as well as the search committee.

Some big names from SOU's past are on the search committee, including former star running back Dusty McGrorty, who broke every major small college rushing record before graduating in 2003, and former head coach Jim Palazzolo, who led the Raiders to 30 wins between the 1989 and 1995 seasons.

While Sayre did not name the applicants, he said he's received plenty of calls from high profile names voicing their support for candidates. Two of those reference calls, according to Sayre, came from former Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer, and Bob Tebow, the father of Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Tim Tebow.

"We're feeling pretty good about it," Sayre said, when asked about the quality of applicants. "I think people see the potential here, and it's a great place to work. And somebody who understands this place probably understands that we can produce a winner here.

"I've eyeballed the candidates," he added, "and there's about 15 guys right now who would be strong potential candidates. I think it's going to be tough to make the call on this one."

When the search for SOU's 15th head coach began in November, Sayre said that the goal was to bring in Helminiak's replacement no later than mid-February. He still plans on meeting that deadline, but a major variable on the horizon could put a kink in those plans.

Southern Oregon is one of four schools that have applied for full or partial membership in the Montana-based Frontier Conference, and won't find out whether or not its football program will be accepted until the conference's winter meeting on Feb. 7-8.

The Raiders have competed as an independent since the Columbia Football Association disbanded following the 1998 season.

"We should know who our next head coach is, or at least who the top candidate is, by the end of January, but I want to wait until after the Frontier Conference meeting to offer the job and make it official," Sayre said.

While SOU's search has attracted candidates from all across the nation, there are several locals who could wind up as finalists — if they apply, that is. One of those potential candidates is Ashland High's own Charlie Hall, a former Raider who graduated from SOU in 1983, returned as the offensive coordinator in 1996 and went on to earn the NCAA Division I-AA (now Division I-FCS) offensive coordinator of the year award while at Northern Arizona.

Hall, who's coached the Grizzlies since 2005, said "no comment" when asked Monday whether or not he has applied for the job.

Local coaches like Hall may have a slight advantage over the rest of the field.

"We're looking for somebody who knows this region, and can recruit this region," Sayre said, "so that's going to be important to us."