Leighton said decision to resign was difficult, brought on by responsibility to take care of his elderly parents

PIONEER FILE PHOTO - Dan Leighton in 2015

After four seasons as head coach of the Colton High School football program, Dan Leighton has resigned.

In a phone conversation June 27, Leighton said his choice to resign stemmed from his growing responsibility of caring for his elderly parents.

"It was hard to give it up," Leighton said. "I had to for, as most people know, I care for my elderly parents … I had a choice to make and family is always first."

"There was just no way I could do both jobs at this time … I found in about March that I wasn't doing the conditioning in the weight room and the kids were bugging me and I said 'I'll make it work, I'll make it work,' and I just never did make it work because I was always with my mom and dad."

A legacy

As head coach, Leighton went 20-18 overall and 13-11 in league play, making the playoffs in 2013 and 2015 but losing in the first round both times. The last three years, he led the Vikings to .500 records in PacWest play, never quite being able to get over the hump that goes through powerhouses Scio, Blanchet Catholic, and Salem Academy.

Leighton put in his letter of resignation in the middle of May, and the district will likely look to fill the spot rather quickly as summer workouts and preseason camps are right around the corner.

He recently spearheaded a fundraising effort that raised nearly $14,000 for new equipment for the team, allowing them to purchase all new shoulder pads and girdles along with some other everyday needs. It's fair to say that Leighton left the program in a very solid place.

"[The program] stands in really good hands I think, as far as I'm concerned," he said. "There's going to be three of the coaches I hope able to stay on staff and I'm hoping one of them gets the job just to keep the consistency of the growing program, especially with this group of seniors we have with Dawson (Hall) and Zemar (Smith) and the likes of them, so I'm hoping that it kind of stays consistent; I put my recommendations in for what I would like to see continue."

Leighton said he was "being selfish" thinking that he could remain coach while caring for his parents, when he realized he just couldn't do it.

"The program is going to stand good; they got all of their brand-new equipment, everything has been delivered, and the kids are going to start off excited with a bunch of new gear with brand-new shoulder pads and girdles, and we got brand-new uniforms a couple years ago, so their mentality of being safe is going to be changed dramatically from those old things we had, and I just hope there's consistency in the program after I leave," Leighton said.

"I'm torn about leaving because it's probably one of the best coaching jobs I've ever had, and it's that small community, that family feeling that you get with the parent group; it was a great gig, I'll tell you," he said.

Leighton did say, however, that if the position opens back up after a few years of him taking care of his parents, he'll be applying.

Unable to walk away from the game

Leighton's love for the game of football is apparent for anyone that has seen him coach or been coached by him. His style is unique and he genuinely cares for his players.

And while Leighton will spend much of his spare time caring for his parents, he said he still needs an outlet: "Dan time," as he refers to it.

That's where Tim Baker comes in.

Baker was hired as Molalla's football coach after Leighton resigned from Colton, and only after Leighton had officially resigned did Baker reach out and ask him for some coaching help this upcoming season.

"I'm not going to be able to get away from the game totally," Leighton said. "I won't have even close to the responsibilities of a head coach, and the number one point of focus is going to be the care of my mom and dad, but on particular days I'll be there for Tim and will keep my nose in the game and my skills up."

"I need respite too … I'm going to need some breaks, and Tim has offered that for me," Leighton said.

Leighton also confirmed that Colton assistant coach Sean McElhaney, who teaches science at MHS, will be joining the staff as well.

The moves comprise a blast from the past to when Baker held his position back in the mid-2000s, when Leighton and McElhaney, along with current coach Martin Monsey, were on staff then as well. It feels like the program is back on track to where it could have gone a decade ago: heading towards high-quality seasons with solid, dependable coaching from local individuals invested in the community.

"Dan and Sean were part of my staff back in the old days and we've remained friends over the years," Baker said in a phone interview June 28. "And in the last couple years I was helping Dan out over in Colton coaching their linemen, and he had been talking to me, we keep in touch and I know he has family obligations with his parents and the weight of being a head coach was getting to be a little much to bear while taking care of his parents, so when I was offered the job at Molalla, he had already resigned and I said 'You have to do something for yourself,' and I asked if he'd be willing to at least come out and help a little with the offense to help me out and get this thing started up."

"I think football is in his blood and you can't totally take him away from it, plus I think he just needs that as a respite to get a break for himself," Baker said. "He's a great coach and we're lucky to get even a little of his help."

Baker then responded to my questions regarding these coaching additions being a blast from the past to his time coaching Molalla a decade ago.

"It's weird how everything is kind of, the stars are kind of aligned in a way to where [McElhaney] has decided to come back and coach the defense," Baker said.

Baker noted that the last time he was coach during the 2006 season, the Indians' defense, led by McElhaney, averaged 10 points per game allowed.

"He runs a very sound and aggressive defens,e and I think the kids will be able to grab hold of it and make it their own," he said.

Baker then said that Monsey, who was hired by Baker during his former tenure as coach but did not remain on staff for more than a few days, will be the lone carry-over from Grant Boustead's staff.

"I'm glad that this time around he's able to continue to coach, he's staying on staff," Baker said.

"We all have a lot of fun together, we work really well off each other ... everybody has their two cents, I don't claim to be the smartest guy in the world and I'm willing to listen to any ideas that would help our team be better, so it's a real team effort and I think we collaborate well together and work well together.

McElhaney will resume his role as defensive coordinator, while Leighton will mainly work with the offensive backfield along with the offensive gameplans.

Players' response

Dawson Hall is an incoming senior and will resume his role as starting quarterback for the Vikings. He is a key component of both the offensive and defensive schematics, and adjusting to a new coach isn't a new concept to him.

"We've had to adapt to new coaches in basketball and baseball (this academic year), so I think we'll do fine since we're used to it now," Hall said.

As one of the seven returning seniors from last season's squad, Hall said he's going to emphasize that no matter who the coach is, it's up to the players to give their best effort.

"I'm just going to say that in the end, we're the ones on the field and are responsible for playing our hardest to win games," he said. "I hope as a team we still have a good attitude and just still have fun."

Seth Bruesch is also a returning senior for the Vikings this season. He was a kep component on both sides of the ball last year as a tight end and defensive back. He agrees with Hall and said it's up to the players to determine their outcome.

"I believe no matter who the coach is, as a team we have enough talen to make a good run at the playoffs," Bruesch said. "Having a familiar face at the coaching position would make that a lot easier, though."

Bruesch said as a senior, he's trying to keep the situation "as positive as possible" and keep everyone's heads up and looking forward to next year."

He said he understands why Leighton left, since his motto was always "family first."

"I understand why he left," Bruesch said. "It's a little hard on the team, but he always preaches to us 'family first.'"

"He brought us closer as a team and really showed us we had the potential to actually win games."

The job listing on the Colton School District website was posted on June 7 along with postings for head coach and assistant coach for Colton Middle School, added on the same day.

Conner Williams
Sports Reporter/News Contributor
503-829-2301 ext. 341
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