North Medford High School’s wrestling program has had to endure a late-season change in the last two weeks, with sixth-year head coach Phillip Lopez stating he has resigned for personal reasons and fifth-year assistant coach Jimmy Ulrey being named interim head coach Feb. 7 by the Medford School District.
“I’ve pretty much accomplished everything in my bucket list coaching besides a team title, and you have to have a lot go your way for that,” said Lopez on Tuesday. “I just felt like it was just time.”
The changeover came as the team geared up for the state tournament Friday and Saturday in Portland.
Sources with insight into the situation said the move was preceded by a complaint involving Lopez and the wrestling program but would not confirm details. Medford District Athletic Director Amy Tiger said she could neither confirm nor deny a complaint or that Lopez resigned. She referred questions to the coach because district policy prevents comment on personnel issues.
She did say a cause for concern necessitated a parent meeting two weeks ago.
Lopez, Ulrey and North Medford athletic director Patrick Grady also declined comment about any complaint.
“We had a parent meeting (Feb. 7) and we talked to the parents at that time and named Jimmy as the interim for the remainder of the season,” said Tiger.
“After the season’s over,” she added, “we’ll meet with everybody and look at where we go forward with the program and what that looks like.”
Lopez came to North Medford in 2013 from Reedsport High, where he was head coach from 2005-2009 and 2012. He was an assistant coach at Southwest Oregon Community College in Coos Bay in 2010 and 2011. Lopez began his coaching career as an assistant at Willamette High from 1999 until 2003.
In his time at North Medford, Lopez spearheaded a program that landed its first individual state champions since Medford High split into two high schools in 1986 (Trenton Wilson 2014, Wyatt Westfall 2015 and 2016) and enters this weekend’s state tournament seeking its third state trophy in five years and fourth overall.
“North Medford’s been fantastic, between Jimmy, (assistant coach Jason Gutches) and all the rest of the staff,” said Lopez. “North’s not only going to have a good shot at placing this year but next year’s the same. Things are lined up for those guys to do great things. Obviously they’re doing OK. They had six regional champs and seven finalists last weekend. I was there, it wasn’t like I’m not still supporting them.”
Tiger said Tuesday night that it was the district’s choice to name Ulrey interim head coach.
Ulrey was a former state-placer at North Medford High and went on to become a two-time All-American at Southern Oregon University.
“I’m glad that Jimmy is able and willing to step up,” said Grady. “It’s a difficult situation, to say the least, all around, but you’ve got to have somebody who’s at the head who is your go-to person and he’s been willing to fill in for the remainder for us.”
Ulrey and the rest of North Medford’s wrestling staff, which also includes assistants Greg Bryant and Tyler Baird, have maintained a business-as-usual front and a commitment to finish the season strong. With Lopez watching from the stands, the Black Tornado placed second to Roseburg in last week’s Southwest Conference district championships.
“It was not planned for, obviously; it was definitely an unexpected situation and we’re just doing the best we can,” said Ulrey.
“I’m excited and the coaching staff is excited,” he added about the Class 6A state tourney Friday and Saturday in Portland. “We may not be able to send the numbers that Roseburg and Newberg and some other teams are sending, but the quality of kids we’re sending with the six district champions and 10 district qualifiers, we’ve got the firepower as far as getting kids to place and finishing toward the top.”
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