ASHLAND — Southern Oregon University conducted a nationwide search to find its next head football coach, but in the end athletic director Matt Sayre decided the right man for the job was just a short jaunt down Siskiyou Boulevard.
Ashland coach Charlie Hall has been named SOU’s next head football coach, the school announced Friday, ending a search that began about three weeks after SOU’s previous head coach, Craig Howard, died unexpectedly Jan. 20.
Hall, 56, who has coached Ashland since 2005, was named one of three finalists along with Central Washington offensive coordinator Chris Fisk and St. Mary’s High head coach Tony Franks, Feb. 27. Hall and Fisk, who was on Howard’s staff from 2011 to 2015, were called back for a final round of interviews this week, and on Thursday Sayre called Hall to offer him the job.
Also a finalist for the job in 2011, Hall said he was hopeful that this time around the news would be better. Sayre got right to the point, telling the former Northern Arizona offensive coordinator almost immediately that it was time for the Hall era to begin.
“You’re always going to assume success when you’re a coach,” Hall said. “You don’t go into a game thinking, well, I don’t know about this game. I felt like the interview went well, I enjoyed the process because I got to reconnect with a lot of people that I’ve known in the community. And I just was hoping that this would be the right time, and that’s the key thing. Maybe last time when I went through this process it wasn’t. I certainly have a lot of respect for Craig [Howard] and what he’s done.”
Hall said taking over a program only two months after the death of its previous head coach — a man who was both beloved and successful — will be a challenge, but one he’s ready to take on.
“I know the players are probably still in the grieving process,” said Hall, an SOU alum who was 94-44 at Ashland and led the Grizzlies to four conference titles and an appearance in the Class 5A state championship game in 2015. “I think that’s very difficult because he got them here, he delivered with success, and there were great expectations for a great year. There are a lot of seniors on this team right now and I know they had high expectations and all of a sudden you deal with that tragedy, and those kids are wondering, ‘What’s going to happen to us.’
“So I just hope to come in there and to build that bridge and to make everyone feel connected. We’re marching on. We’re certainly going to play the way (Howard) wanted us to play. There are a lot of things that Craig left with the program that are great. You look at the core values in character, strength and honor. Those were Craig Howard’s values, but those now become Raider football values, and we’re going to continue to have that as a big part of the program.”
Though his most recent coaching stint was at the high school level, Hall brings a wealth of experience to Southern Oregon.
A former Raiders player, Hall’s coaching career also began at SOU when he served as a student assistant until 1983. After that, he took coaching jobs at University of Washington, University of Idaho and University of New Mexico before being hired as SOU’s offensive coordinator in 1996. He took a job as offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach at University of North Texas in 1997 before leaving a year later to coach under Jim Nagel at Ashland High. Hall was hired as offensive coordinator at Northern Arizona, a Division I-FCS program, in 2001. There, he helped the Lumberjacks upset the No. 1-ranked team in the nation in the playoffs and was named the NCAA Division I-AA Offensive Coordinator of the Year by American Football Monthly.
Hall, who has coached every position at least once, returned to take the Ashland job in 2005 and has won four conference Coach of the Year awards while guiding the Grizzlies to the state quarterfinals six times. He also served as Ashland’s co-head baseball coach last year with his son Nick, and will be an assistant under Nick Hall this season.
Ultimately, Sayre said, Hall’s jam-packed resume and long history of success was too good to pass up.
“His expertise and experience on so many levels is pretty impressive,” Sayre said. “The first thing that we always have admired about Charlie is where he’s been, the places he’s coached and the success he’s had. And then when you look at the success he’s had at Ashland High School — he’s always over-performed there and has gotten the most out of those kids, and created a winning program. He’s outcoached so many other coaches. You look at almost every game, there was a huge edge for Ashland because Charlie was on the sideline.”
Hall’s work for SOU has already begun, which means that from now until the school year wraps up in June he’ll be punching the clock for multiple jobs — SOU football coach, AHS physical education teacher, Ashland baseball coach and Ashland football coach. As if that’s not enough, Hall’s also helping to organize the Ashland football team’s summer trip to Japan for the Pacific Rim Bowl.
Hall met with the Ashland football team during a lunch break Friday to tell them the news, was hitting grounders and line drives to Grizzly baseball players later that afternoon and is scheduled to meet with SOU’s coaching staff Sunday and the players Monday.
As for his plans filling out a staff, Hall said it’s too early to name names but added that he likes the coaches already in place. Last season, Howard’s staff included assistant head coach Nathan Chin, offensive coordinator/receivers coach Ken Fasnacht, defensive coordinator James Gravelle and eight position coaches.
“They’ve done a great job keeping continuity,” he said. “Obviously, we’ll try to put together the best staff possible going forward and we’d like to have a lot of those guys that are there now because they would provide that continuity we’re talking about and have relationships with players.”
With SOU’s spring camp just around the corner, Hall, who managed to snag a college coaching job and simultaneously shave a solid 90 seconds off his morning commute, says one of his first orders of business will be to assure every member of Howard’s last recruiting class that they’re still in good hands.
Hall takes over a program that only 15 months ago was one win away from claiming its second straight NAIA national championship. He talked to a few players as part of the interview process and said they’re anxious, but excited too.
“When you take that leadership out of there and there’s unpredictability of that type of continuity, players start to worry,” he said. “I just feel like I can come in and hopefully we can put things at bay and try to move on.”
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99