Don Clegg has retired as the head coach of the Wilson High School football team.
Wilson principal Dan Besett opened the coaching vacancy Monday morning, he said.
The Rams will be without a legend.
Clegg spent the past 29 seasons coaching Wilson football, compiling a career record of 167-123. Five of his players went on to play in the NFL — including Desmond, Isaiah and Marcus Trufant.
Clegg did not return multiple calls seeking comment.
“I’ve known Coach Clegg for 17 years and he’s had a tremendous history of success at Wilson High School,” Besett said. “And I know that he’s touched the lives of many athletes on our campus who continue to come back to see him and help as volunteers and assistant coach with him over the years.”
Wilson was the most consistent football program in Tacoma for much of Clegg’s tenure.
The 68-year-old coach had been struggling with physical and emotional issues the past few seasons. His wife, Debbie, died of cancer two years ago. He suffered a shoulder injury when he fell at Shelton during a track and field meet last spring (Clegg was an assistant coach) and he’s also had a ruptured appendix and had to have his kidney removed when doctors discovered he had cancer.
He continued to coach through it. Wilson even reached the 3A state playoffs last year, losing to Kennewick.
“Don has been incredibly consistent throughout the years with his work ethic and his commitment to our student-athletes,” Besett said. “He’s the complete package. He’s spent enormous amounts of time preparing for the season and he’s a very knowledgeable man about the game.”
Clegg was part of the 2011 class of the Washington State Football Coaches Association hall of fame. Along with the Trufant brothers, Clegg also coached Xavier Cooper, a third-round draft choice by the Cleveland Browns in 2015, and Larry Stevens — a linebacker who played two seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals.
He’s been called the grandfather of Tacoma football, being hired in the spring of 1988. He had previously coached 17 seasons as a football and baseball coach at Borah High School (his alma mater) in Idaho. He came to Wilson highly recommended by former Boise State University coach Skip Hall, said Willie Stewart, a longtime Tacoma Public Schools administrator who was on the hiring committee that brought Clegg in.
“He loved his players and he prepared himself and his teams were very successful,” Stewart said. “I would put him up there with anyone in the state of Washington. And he’s set that program up to continue to have success after him.”
Besett didn’t mention a timetable for hiring Clegg’s replacement. He said Clegg will continue teach through at least the end of the school year.
“We’re going to give this some time to see what interest is like and we will put together a really great committee to select the first new coach at Wilson High School in 29 years,” Besett said.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
DON CLEGG BIO
Coaching tenure: 29 seasons at Wilson High School, 17 seasons at Borah High School (Idaho)
Career record: 167-123
State playoff appearances: nine
Farthest run: Reached the state championship game in 1999, losing to Pasco, 17-0. Wilson was the highest scoring team in the state entering the title game. In a News Tribune article: Wilson came into this game averaging 41 points per game and seemed to be everybody’s favorite to win the state title. “I hated to have a shutout because we are better than that, “ Wilson coach Don Clegg said.
Notable accomplishments: The history teacher coached five NFL players — Desmond, Isaiah and Marcus Trufant, Xavier Cooper and Larry Stevens. He was inducted into the Washington State Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 2011.
Here is a feature story on Clegg written by former News Tribune staff writer Gary Brooks that published Dec. 5, 1998 — just before Wilson played Pasco in the 1998 championship game:
FOR CLEGG, THERE’S MORE THAN WINNING
WILSON COACH’S TOP DESIRE IS HIS PLAYERS TO SUCCEED IN LIFE
As much as playing in the Class 4A state championship football game tonight means to the Wilson High players, it is equally as important to their head coach, Don Clegg. It means Clegg is doing things right on the field. But most importantly, it means Clegg has been successful in his greatest endeavor — getting kids to use athletics as the building blocks of a solid, respectable life and help them overcome setbacks.
Coaching kids in the city the past 11 years has opened Clegg’s eyes to the wonders of agony and defeat in his athletes’ lives as much as it has helped him learn how to coach an unbeaten team.
Clegg has helped kids get through situations that many coaches would never have to deal with. Nasty things you don’t want to hear about. Things that make Clegg emotional.
There are kids who he knows never get a home-cooked meal, others who have had to deal with mysteriously missing parents, drug-addicted relatives, and strings of foster homes.
“The sad thing is there’s a million stories like that around here, “ said Clegg, who grew up in Boise and spent close to two decades coaching at his alma mater, Borah High, never thinking he’d see some of the obstacles presented to the kids he has coached in Tacoma. “I’ll always look back and I’m so thankful for what I had growing up.”
The difference in generations presents greater challenges for Clegg than his coaches had to face.
“When I was at Borah, we had great programs, top 10 in America, “ Clegg said. “We focused on game-planning and we focused on watching film and the kids really enjoyed it. The hardest thing I’ve found as a coach (at Wilson) is trying to get these kids to focus. There are things that I found important, but obviously it’s not as important to some of them because they’ve got a lot of other things going on.
“It’s not like the ’70s when Tacoma was a powerhouse in athletics because you have so many economic and social factors involved.”
The problems many city youths encounter deprive them from growing up with structure or discipline, and Clegg said athletics are the perfect way to replace what might not be there.
“Boy, if you don’t think there’s a place for athletics, “ Clegg said. “It’s saved some of these kids from tough times. Obviously you don’t get them all. Some of them end up getting into trouble.”
The ones who stray the wrong way generally are the ones who were afraid to participate in athletics because of its structure and discipline. Therefore, they grow to have no sense of support or teamwork, no idea how to go through the process of building success.
Fortunately for Clegg and Wilson High, the current collection of football stars that takes a 12-0 record into the state championship game tonight against Pasco have a base of support.
“Most of these kids all have parents who care, “ Clegg said. “Maybe that’s why it’s a special, unique group that way.”
It’s a group that has given Clegg a link to his past. Clegg’s high school coach, Ed Troxel, will be an interested observer today. Troxel, who also coached at the University of Idaho and Kennewick High, is excited for one of his former pupils, but is not in a position to provide much help because Troxel’s son, Andy, is the quarterback coach for Pasco.
“(Troxel) gave me a call and kind of laughed, “ Clegg said as the emotion of this week and the contact with his mentor caused him to tear up and laugh at the same time. “He wished me good luck and said he couldn’t be a loser in this game.”
It was a bit more than 30 years ago when Clegg got the itch to coach.
“I wasn’t a great high school athlete, “ Clegg said. “I remember sitting in (Troxel’s) office my junior year asking him what it took to be a high school coach.”
Clegg went to Boise State University, graduating in 1970, and emerged as a football and baseball coach.
Today, the Rams might bring Clegg his greatest coaching success and the first football title to the Tacoma school since 1980. But it’s the champions of life some of his players have become that will always mean more than the trophies.