Gig Harbor High School has found its next football coach.
And he comes from the chainsaw-wielding logging community of Eatonville.
George Fairhart had been an Eatonville football fixture for the past 24 years, earning 169 wins with 13 state playoff appearances. He went 8-3 with the Cruisers this past year and reached the 2A state playoffs. He’s also the school’s athletic director.
But Fairhart, 55, said he’s ready for a new challenge.
“From my perspective, (Gig Harbor) has always been a great place to coach, just watching from the outside,” Fairhart said. “It’s a great school, great community. They seem to have a ton of support, good facilities and great kids. From everything I’ve seen, and getting to know some of the staff members, it seems like everything is right there.”
So Fairhart says goodbye to the grass field of Eatonville High School and hello to the turf surfaces at Gig Harbor and Roy Anderson Field.
Not that this was an easy decision. Especially when he notified his now former players Wednesday morning.
“I had coached some of those kids’ parents,” Fairhart said. “It was difficult. We have good relationships with those kids and those families. It’s not an easy thing to do.
“But the opportunity — I think Gig Harbor is a gem. I really do think it’s a great opportunity.”
And for those who assumed Fairhart would retire at Eatonville? Not so fast.
“I’m not ready to retire,” Fairhart said. “I’m ready to put my foot on the gas a little bit.”
Fairhart replaces Aaron Chantler, who resigned as the Tides’ coach in early February citing the desire to “look at other professional opportunities.”
Chantler, a graduate of Wilson High School, led Gig Harbor to four consecutive state appearances in five years as Gig Harbor’s coach, and won two league titles. He was the 4A Narrows League coach of the year in 2015. He left Gig Harbor with a 36-18 overall record.
Gig Harbor athletic director Bob Werner announced the hiring Wednesday morning.
“George is a highly respected coach and educator,” Werner said in a press release. “He has a storied career at Eatonville High School.”
The move from Eatonville to Gig Harbor means bumps from Class 1A to 2A to 3A in consecutive years for Fairhart. He began his coaching career at Friday Harbor, when it was a B school.
“Having adequate practice facilities is something we didn’t have,” Fairhart said. “Gig Harbor has resources, support and equipment (Eatonville doesn’t) have.”
He’s not exaggerating. Fairhart said 2016 was the first year the team even had a trainer.
“I’ve been taping ankles for decades,” he said. “So having support, things like that, those are nice things to have. I won’t take it for granted.”
Fairhart has run various offenses over the years, usually either the wing-T or spread. He said he will evaluate the best offense for the Tides based on personnel.
Fairhart was part of Linfield College’s 1982 national championship team as an offensive lineman. The team was led by quarterback Randy Mueller, who later went to work in the front office of the Seattle Seahawks before serving as the general manager for the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins. He’s currently the senior executive for football operations for the Los Angeles Chargers.
Current University of Nebraska head coach Mike Riley was on the Linfield staff as an assistant that year. Ad Rutschman was the head coach at the time.
“We had some great talent,” Fairhart said. “We had an incredible group of football players and incredible group of coaches.”
Fairhart will be bringing one of Gig Harbor’s own with him. His offensive coordinator, Jeff Mladenich, is coming with him after graduating from Gig Harbor, where Mladenich playing quarterback before playing at Boise State University in the early 1990s.
“We’re looking forward to building something at Gig Harbor,” Fairhart said.
Staff writer TJ Cotterill contributed to this report