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North Medford football coach Turner retires

Steve Turner, shown during a press conference to announce his hiring in 2018 as the North Medford Hgh head football coach, is stepping down. MT file photo

Steve Turner is a Black Tornado through and through, but his time as North Medford’s head football coach is now through as well.

Turner informed current players, coaches and North Medford administrators Thursday afternoon of his desire to retire after spending the better part of seven decades on the football field as a player or coach.

“Like I told the kids today, the last time I wasn’t on a football team was 1967 and I’m going to be turning 67 this summer, so maybe that’s an omen,” said Turner.

Calling the Black Tornado position a dream opportunity when he replaced Mike Mitchell in 2018, Turner worked hard to continue to revive the once-dominant program and restore its traditions.

In his three years at the helm, Turner guided North Medford to a 15-12 record and as far as the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs in 2019.

“That’s the hard part, I really wanted to see Black Tornado get back to the top of the list,” he said. “I think it’s right on the cusp of getting there and the next three or four years it should be there.”

“We had 65 kids today at the meeting that were all freshmen through juniors and it’s a great group of kids,” added Turner. “It’s tough to leave when you know the quality kids that are there but it’s also nice to know that our coaching staff was part of that and put those kids there. To leave it way better than the way we found it was also a goal and I think we’ve done that.”

Turner hadn’t initially set out to retire after this past season, but a 2020-21 school year campaign that began with such doubt last summer and was ultimately moved to a six-week run in February and March took its toll.

“We thought we could get four years,” Turner said of a plan established with his wife Mary, “but obviously COVID really put a cramp into that into the season. It seemed like it was a two- or three-season season, do you know what I mean? Although coaching is 12 months out of the year anyway, this COVID stuff took a lot out of everybody mentally as well as physically. And at this point in time and my age, I don’t have much mentally left.”

When Turner decided to come out of retirement to return to a Black Tornado program that saw him serve as Rod Rumrey’s defensive coordinator from 1988-97, he and his wife maintained their home in Creswell and he set up in a Medford apartment during his time back here.

The longtime couple moved into a new home in Cottage Grove during the first week of practice this past February and Turner maintained his long-distance regimen, but it all became more challenging during the pandemic.

“In the previous two years during the season, I never came home,” said Turner. “This year I came home every weekend. How does a 66-year-old man be homesick? But I was.”

Beyond the understandable long-distance strain, Turner also began to endure a fact of coaching that comes with such tremendous longevity.

“I spent some time with Rod Rumrey today because I wanted to let him know what was going on firsthand,” said Turner, “and the one thing that was common between the two of us, and some people don’t understand this, is that going into every game we expect to win. And when you win it’s great, but the euphoria lasts about an hour or two and then you’re on to the next game. But when you lose a game, it sticks with you, sometimes for years. That’s the tough part. The losses we had this year absolutely killed me.”

In 21 years as a head coach, he amassed a 121-89 record that included state championships at 5A Mountain View in 2011, where he had a 40-7 record, and 4A Cascade in 2015, where he was 37-9.

Turner began his coaching career as an assistant at Cascade in 1978 and eventually made stops at Rainier, North Medford and Crook County prior to Mountain View, Cascade and, lastly, a second stint with the Black Tornado. North Medford won a state championship in 1993 during his first run as an assistant coach.

“I usually go into games full of excitement and not nervous because you’re a competitor and you want to play,” said Turner, “but there were some times this year where it’s like, gosh, I’m nervous, and that shouldn’t happen. I shouldn’t be nervous. I should be confident and I was nervous. We won those games where I was nervous but still, I was like, that shouldn’t be the way it is.”

After making progress during his first season in 2018 (3-7), North Medford went 8-3 in 2019 and was primed for a breakthrough season in 2020 before COVID put everything into a tailspin.

The Black Tornado still finished 4-2, with the only blemishes against Tualatin (41-28) and South Medford (35-34), but nothing ever came easy for players and coaches who had been strung along for so long before getting the approval to play.

“Steve brought stability and just the resiliency that was so needed, specifically this year,” said North Medford athletic director Brent McConaghy. “He did an absolutely incredible job with our coaches, players and family members about how much flexibility and determination is needed in the uncertainty that is this world. He did an absolutely incredible job with leading us through that time and keeping kids coming to the weight room and 7-on-7 and leading probably the longest football season in history.”

McConaghy said the coaching position was posted as of Thursday and would remain open until June 1, when the application process will then turn to focus groups that expect to include players, parents and community members. With the traditional 2021 football season only four months away and offseason routines already underway, the hope is to find North’s next head coach in short order.

“Our big idea is that we have one of the best pipelines that are about to come through in the next three-to-five years of talent,” said McConaghy, “so we want to make sure that we capitalize and find somebody that’s going to lead us not only to consistent league championships but state championships, and to always keep in the forefront of their mind that beating South Medford is a very important part of the job.”

One aspect that Turner was able to bring was unwavering pride in being a Black Tornado, and McConaghy hopes that too will be characteristic of the ensuing hire.

“This was one of his dream opportunities and there’s something to be said about a guy that’s going to go out of his way to work like none other for his dream job,” said the AD, “and he treated it as such and the respect he gave to North Medford and the players and families, it was just wonderful to see somebody be so committed, not only to what North Medford stands for but just the Black Tornado tradition. That was something that can’t be taught, it had to be ingrained in him and it was something that he brought to the job and he’s now put that into every one of our kids, that’s just going to be very difficult to replace.”

As for Turner, he said he’ll coach one final time this year and then go about the next journey of his life — as out of character as it may be — beyond the football field.

“I got asked to coach the Les Schwab Bowl in July and I’ll do that because that’s something that doesn’t come around very often, but that’s it,” said Turner. “My wife has got plans for us and stuff that we’ve never been able to do because of football season, so we’ll get out there and adventure a little bit.”

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