James Holan awaits 'all clear' to move to Happy Valley
There is only so much that new Clackamas High School football coach James Holan can do to prepare for his first season with the Cavaliers while schools are closed and prep sports takes an indefinite timeout due to the coronavirus pandemic.
For now, the former offensive coordinator at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, is still hunkered down at his home just north of the U.S.-Canadian border with wife, Ashlee, and newborn daughter, Chloe Elizabeth, waiting for the "all clear" to make the move to Happy Valley.
Holan has been working the phone and sending emails, staying in touch with Clackamas athletic director Vicki Nelms, exchanging ideas with several of the assistants who have remained on staff, and interviewing prospective coaches to replace the assistants who have departed.
"It's not ideal, but I want our kids to understand that we're trying to make the best out of a difficult situation," Holan said.
A 2007 graduate of Linfield College and an offensive lineman on the Wildcats' 2004 national championship team, Holan said it wasn't until his final year of college that he started thinking seriously about pursuing a career in coaching.
"I was kind of bummed that I didn't know that earlier," he said. "I don't really come from a coaching family or a 'sports' family, so to speak, so that's not really where my mindset was when I got into college.
"I wish I had gone more that education route early on, but toward the end of my time at Linfield, I just knew that I wanted to stay involved in the game somehow."
Armed with a degree in mass communications, Holan got his first job in 2008 as an offensive coordinator on coach Gary Garabato's staff at College of Marin, not far from his hometown of Mill City, California.
That was followed by stints at Mission Hills High School in San Marcos, California, where he served as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach from 2009-12, and Piedmont High School in Piedmont, California, where he was the defensive coordinator from 2013-14 and the head coach from 2015-17.
Then he 2018, Holan went to Simon Fraser where he reunited with head coach Thomas Ford, a former Linfield running back who helped mentor Holan as a college player.
Holan said the coaches who have inspired him the most include Linfielde's Jay Locey and Doug Hire, Mission Hill's Chris Hauser, Piedmont's Scott Coats, and Simon Fraser's Ford, who recently stepped down as the Clansmen's head coach to become the offensive quality control coach at the University of Washington.
"Chris Hauser at Mission Hills is really just a tremendous man," Holan said. "He really gave me my first opportunity to work with a championship-level program. And on top of that, he gave me a ton of opportunities to grow as a coach. I owe him so much."
After Mission Hills, Holan was a finalist for the job as head coach at Piedmont, but the job went to Coats, who then hired Holan as his defensive coordinator.
"That was just a huge step in my football education," Holan said. "I got to see the other side of the ball and it kind of pushed me outside of my comfort zone.
"I'm so indebted to Scott Coats. As much as he was a mentor to me, he also became my peer, my friend. He taught me some tough lessons, and we had a really good give-and-take relationship."
At Simon Fraser, Holan's responsibilities included recruiting Oregon, so he had some insight into what was happening with coaching opportunities at different high schools.
Then when he and Ashlee decided to start a family, he started looking seriously at some of the opportunities.
"I have family and friends in Oregon and I just knew that's where I wanted to end up," Holan said. "I didn't want to be on the road recruiting for 10 weeks during the offseason when we're starting a family. It's kind of the first time in my life that I ever felt guilty about coaching.
"I love what I do, but I know in order to be a great coach, I've got to be a great husband, a great father, and a great friend, and I've got to be great at all those things to be a great coach, otherwise I'm just talkin' the talk.
"I'm really proud of what we accomplished at SFU, but ultimately for me, it was kind of a no-brainer to jump back into high school coaching."
Holan was named the new Clackamas coach last month, replacing Terry Drake, who resigned his position after one season because of health reasons.
He takes over a Cavaliers' program that has reached the OSAA 6A playoffs each of the past nine seasons, highlighted by a 2017 state championship, two other runs that ended the semifinals, and two quarterfinal appearances.
Last season, though, was a struggle. The Cavaliers got bounced in the first of the playoffs; they finished 4-5 overall — their first sub-.500 season since 2012 — and Holan has watched enough film to know his first priority is to shake things up a bit.
"I will tell you that there is going to be wholesale changes on offense," Holan said. "From the stands, it will look pretty similar, but I think some of the procedures, how we do things, and how we call plays is going to change.
"I have a pretty clear vision for what this offense will look like. We will have more of a commitment to running the ball. Now, that doesn't mean we're a wing-T team or that we're going to line up with I-backs every play or anything like that, but we want to be able to run the football when the opportunity presents itself."
And, yes, the Cavaliers will throw the ball.
"We will be a balanced team," Holan said. "To be balanced, it isn't about how many times you run and pass. It's about being able to execute either one of those when the opportunity is there and taking advantage of what the defense gives you."
Holan said the bottom line is that if Clackamas' best 11 players on offense is a one-back, two-tight ends, two-wide receivers look, then that's what the Cavaliers will go with.
On the defensive side of the ball, Holan has one of the best in the business on his side in defensive coordinator Jesse Brand, who has consistently fielded some of Mt. Hood Conference's stingiest defensive units in recent years.
"I've had a defense that I've run, but more than the scheme, what I'm really interested in is how we play defense," Holan said. "For me, our goal has to be to become the best tackling team in the state of Oregon.
"What I'm really looking forward to at Clackamas is having some pretty spectacular athletes and being able to be a little more aggressive on defense like I know coach Brand has been in the past."
For now, there is one lingering question: How much longer before Holan's plan starts coming together for real?
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