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Rogue River changes quirky hiring practice

ROGUE RIVER — When a high school coach isn't invited back for next season, it's often because of a poor win-loss record. For the past decade, the process has been more complicated at Rogue River High School.

Under a mandate from the school district, for years Rogue River was required to open all head coaching positions after each season and fill them just prior to the next season. In most cases, coaches were brought back, but not before the school had a chance to consider other candidates.

The obscure policy, which differs significantly from other schools' hiring practices, did its share of damage to Rogue River's athletics program because of high turnover among its head coaches.

There have been numerous head coaching changes in the past four years, including three changes each for the volleyball, football and track and field teams.

Rogue River School District Superintendent Paul Young believes the high turnover rate is a direct result of the district policy.

The majority of Oregon schools opt to work with their coaches on one-year contracts, with an "unspoken agreement" to annually renew contracts until there isn't mutual agreement to do so.

Brad Garrett, Oregon School Activities Association assistant executive director, was an athletic director at Barlow High School in Gresham for 13 years and used such a practice with his coaches.

Between his time at Barlow and the OSAA, Garrett hadn't seen a policy quite like Rogue River's.

"That would be the first I've heard about something like that being done," Garrett said. "It would really be uncommon."

Rogue River is attempting to revert to a more traditional system now, as Young and athletic director Brian Miller amended the policy last month.

Going forward, Rogue River will post all of its coaching positions at the end of the school year with the hope of rehiring or making new hires for the next school year prior to summer.

"We are still going to post all jobs," Miller said. "We plan to let coaches know at the end of each season whether they will return or not after our season-ending evaluations and then make sure to clearly mark a position as 'filled' if we have chosen to retain a coach."

Young is gearing the amended hiring system toward keeping coaches in the fold.

"The way we will do it now helps coaches know when they have to re-apply and they won't have to wait a full year to see if they are going to be back," Young said.

Coaches will still be required to re-apply for a position, but Young said the hiring committee "will ultimately give weight to a coach returning."

Young, who inherited the previous system when he took over as superintendent in 2011, was in favor of change after realizing the flaws in the system.

"If you don't get someone hired before the preseason starts," Young said, "you have coaches doing all the work before the season starts not even knowing whether they will be back."

Young said the process was unfair, and the changes are at least a step toward having a more equitable system of hiring and a more stable athletic program.

Before the school hired Mike Maguire as the head football coach just weeks before the 2011 season began, many questioned whether Rogue River would even have a football team that year due to the mystery shrouding the team's coaching situation. Maguire has since been replaced by Beau Canfield.

While the process went unnoticed by most, Rogue River coaches were fully aware of their vulnerability. Basketball coach Ron Haynes likened it to being caught in no-man's land.

"You can have a successful season," he said, "but the question of 'Will I be replaced?' really lingers in your mind after every year."

Nick Bashans was informed of the system prior to taking the baseball head coaching position this season. Like Haynes, he was skeptical of the old hiring practice and job security. However, he could see the pros and cons to the old system.

"It worried me, but it keeps that competitive edge," he said. "If you lag off or get into a complacent place, they can have someone fill your shoes in no time, so it kind of works both ways."

Bashans said he was asked by Rogue River officials to apply for the position and replace then-coach John White, and realized the same scenario could've happened to him if the old hiring system remained in place.

"It's something I wanted to see the school change," Bashans said.

The new process has been in place for only a month, but early returns suggest the coaches are more comfortable with their job security.

"It is a little murky still, but it is a policy we are all working through to make it better," Haynes said. "It's better than it has been in the past because at least I know at the end of every May whether I am going to be coming back or need to start looking around."