Pat Alexander thought Sid Otton was going to retire as the football coach at Tumwater High School about 12 or 13 years ago.
It was about 15 years ago at an offseason football camp when Otton asked his longtime defensive coordinator and camp roommate to keep coaching — at least until Otton had retired.
“I thought, ‘Sure. He’s probably going to retire in two or three years,’ ” Alexander said. “So I agreed. And that was 15 years ago.”
Finally, with a state-best 384 wins to his credit and 42 years of coaching Tumwater football — 43 at the end of this season — Otton will hang up his proverbial cleats at the end of the season, and 41-year Tumwater assistant coach Alexander will have honored his commitment to the man who is not only his boss, but his closest friend.
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It will also be the final year for defensive backs coach and statistician Steve Shoun, who’s been a coach since 1983. Of Otton’s seven assistants, his son, Tim, is the baby of the bunch — and he’s been here since 2002.
That’s why Tumwater’s practices run so smoothly, even on Wednesday’s first practice of the 2016 season. Otton relies heavily on his staff and their wealth of experience in the program.
“They all have ownership and they do a great job with it,” Otton said. “I learned a lesson real quick — if you got a staff, give them ownership, train them and teach them. People don’t stay around because they don’t feel important.”
Said Alexander: “He has this uncanny ability to say, ‘Pat, you’re in charge of the defense’ and I’m not going to let him down. I’m going to work as hard as he does to make sure of that. And he does that with everybody. He finds some unique thing that they are really good at that he taps into and they would never let him down.”
Without Otton, Alexander and Shoun, Tumwater will be missing a combined 117 years of coaching experience next season.
Alexander first met Otton in 1976 when he was hired as Tumwater’s activities director after nine years as the head football coach at Mount Si in North Bend. Alexander had been asked if he’d want to coach football for one year, so he met with Otton at his home.
“We spent three hours together talking football,” Alexander said.
Then Otton invited Alexander to stay at his house for a week while he and his wife looked for a place.
Tumwater was 1-8 in Otton and Alexander’s first year together.
“But I was so impressed with the program and the kids,” Alexander said. “They were great kids, and they worked hard. But most of all I was impressed with Sid. Not just the coach he was and how organized he was, but I was really impressed with his philosophy of life and what they were teaching the kids about being humble. We always expect our kids to show class out there and be humble.
“And that starts with Sid. When we win, the kids executed everything great and the staff had a great game plan. When we aren’t successful, it’s on him.”
Alexander said Yelm once asked him to apply for its head coaching job. But he’s never considered leaving Otton’s side. He took a year off in 1983 after his son graduated, but Otton asked him to come back, so he did.
“He’s as loyal as they come,” Otton said. “And very competitive. He’s always taken a big load off our shoulders. There’s certainly people you know you can always talk to about certain issues that come up. My wife is one of those, and Tim and Pat.”
They’d go on road trips together with other members of the coaching staff and their families. That is, until Otton said they just got too old.
The two of them and former Tumwater athletic director Bob Shaner had been especially close until Shaner’s death in 2014.
“One of the things I shocked Bob with when he got this pancreatic cancer … I said, ‘Bob, I love ya.’ And he paused because we were raised in an era when men don’t say, ‘I love you,’ ” Alexander said.
“And then he said, ‘You know, I love you, too, Pat.’ So from then on every conversation we’d say that, and at his funeral I talked about that.
“Sid came up to me as soon as I was done and he says, ‘Pat, I need you to know I love you.’ And I said, ‘Well, I love you, too.’ I had known that all along, but that was the first time he had said it, and now we say it all the time.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677