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Crater football takes new direction

CENTRAL POINT — From one opportunity that couldn’t be passed up to another that’s been a long time coming, the Crater High head football coaching position exchanged hands Tuesday morning after Randy Waite resigned to accept an assistant principal position at Phoenix High.

Crater athletic director David Heard reacted quickly, turning over the reins of the football program to Berk Brown, who will serve as interim head coach for the 2020-21 season after three years as defensive coordinator under Waite.

The Comets finished as the Class 5A state runner-up last fall in Waite’s third season, posting an 11-2 record (with both losses to Thurston) for the best season in school history. After Waite journeyed from Rigby High in Idaho to replace John Beck in 2017, Crater reached the state playoffs in each season and went 23-11 overall.

“It’s a huge loss for us,” said Heard. “We have Berk, who is really qualified and does a good job, but we’ve lost a really knowledgeable football person in Randy, and to find other coaches with that much knowledge to fill out our coaching staff is nearly impossible. Randy’s one of the smartest offensive minds that I’ve ever been around.”

Waite previously served as a vice principal at Rigby and taught mathematics at Crater. The opportunity to return to an administrative position, especially in this time of uncertainty due to the pandemic, was simply too much for Waite to pass up once he learned of the Phoenix position.

“I knew eventually this would be a move I’d make, I just didn’t know it would be so soon,” Waite said of the move to assistant principal, pending school board approval. “With all the other stuff going on, it just seemed like an opportunity that I shouldn’t pass up. I’m grateful for that opportunity at Phoenix and hopefully I’ll do a good job there.”

Waite wrapped up his 20th season as a head football coach in 2019 after getting into coaching in 1992. With stops at Weston-McEwen, La Grande, Ontario, Rigby and Crater high schools, he was able to amass an overall record of 136-84.

Waite said there’s a chance he returns to coaching again someday, but not necessarily in the near future as he focuses on his new duties at Phoenix.

Making it easier to move on, according to Waite, was that Crater had such a talented coaching staff in which to lean on in his absence and a solid replacement ready to take over in Brown.

“It’s always tough to leave people that you’ve built relationships with,” said Waite. “I was pleased that they’re moving forward and at least naming coach Brown the interim head coach. That was helpful in my decision. In thinking about it, I didn’t want to leave anybody scrambling, and a lot of the assistant coaches will remain and kids will be somewhat familiar with what’s going on, so that’s a good thing.”

“He’s been instrumental in a lot of the things that we’ve done,” Waite added of Brown, who also joined Crater in 2017. “I don’t take anything away from anyone. You’re only as good as the people around you and he is one of them that’s outstanding. He’ll put his own twist on things and staple on things, but I think a lot of it will look pretty similar.”

Brown played and coached at Southern Oregon University, joining the staff in 2007 after his run as a defensive lineman was complete. He served as a tight ends coach, defensive line coach and special teams coach until ascending to defensive coordinator in 2010.

When Craig Howard took over the Raiders’ program in 2011, Brown was one of only two coaches retained and served as linebackers coach before again ascending to defensive coordinator in 2013. Brown’s defense forced eight turnovers in the 2014 NAIA championship game to defeat Marian (Indiana), 55-31, and was also a steadying force during the 2015 NAIA Championship Series.

Brown left SOU to serve as assistant athletic director and football coach at St. Mary’s High in Medford in 2016, and joined Crater’s staff one year later. He was a finalist during the coaching search at SOU following Howard’s death, as well as in 2017 at Crater and 2018 at North Medford.

“It got frustrating at times because you keep applying, keep building your résumé and doing those things,” said Brown, who turns 36 on Sunday, “but the patience has paid off and I couldn’t be more thrilled. This is something I’ve looked forward to for a long, long time.”

“When I decided to be a football coach after my senior season at SOU, this is obviously where I wanted to be,” he added. “I wanted to someday have the opportunity to take the reins of a program and make it my own and I’m excited for the opportunity here at Crater. This is one of the best districts to work for here in the Rogue Valley. I think they support their coaches a great deal and they’re going to allow me to run the program as I see fit with a lot of support.”

Brown said Tuesday’s announcement of the coaching change went over well for those on hand during offseason training for football, and a large part of that stems from Waite’s leadership during his time at Crater and the way he handled all of his assistants.

“It’s a crazy time in our country right now and then having Randy leave at this juncture in the middle of July could create a problem,” said Brown, “but I really think that the staff here was built such that we could withstand a late change like this. I think Randy did a great job of creating an atmosphere amongst the assistants that when it was time for him to leave that there would be a guy to step in.”

Brown said initial plans include as little staff shakeup as possible, with him retaining his role as defensive coordinator and David Douglas continuing as offensive coordinator. The biggest priority will be in bringing in another top-notch mind for the Comet staff, but Brown admits that replacing Waite will be a tall task.

“When we’re losing coach Waite, we’re not just losing our head coach but we’re losing a guy with just a ton of football knowledge,” said Brown. “He’s going to be hard to replace because he had so many different types of ideas when it came to running a football program. We’re going to have to scour the face of the earth to find a guy who can come in with the football background he did and have the success he did and be the leader that he was.”

Making matters more difficult is the continuing COVID-19 impact as it relates to hirings with schools being on a financial lockdown, as well as the question of whether there will even be a football season for 2020.

Brown, however, remains optimistic.

“I think that the OSAA and Oregon Department of Education are doing everything that they can to ensure that student-athletes get a chance to play a 2020-21 season,” he said. “What that season looks like, I couldn’t tell you. There’s so many ideas out there. But I know that there are those out there on the front line doing everything that they can to give our kids a chance to go out there and compete and be a part of something bigger than themselves.”

“Whether that’s a regional season to where we play teams from Roseburg on down south here,” added Brown, “or whether we play a shortened season starting in early or mid-September, who knows. I think there’s a thousand good ideas out there and just coming up with the single idea that’s going to be best for student-athletes and families alike, that’s a hard decision to make with what’s going on right now. But I know we’ll be ready to line up against whoever it may be once we get the chance.”

Have a local story? Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

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Berk Brown