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Kerry Eggers on Sports: Former Portland State, Cal Poly coach takes over at Santa Margarita High

COURTESY: CAL POLY - Tim Walsh, recently out as Cal Poly football coach, has spent 29 seasons as a head coach in the college ranks. Now he's going to coach a high school team in Rancho Santa Margarita, California. Last month, it appeared Tim Walsh's coaching career was over after he stepped down following 11 seasons as head football coach at Cal Poly.

Asked then how he felt about retirement, Walsh laughed.

"That's what I have to find out," he said with a laugh. "You can either call it 'semi-retired' or 'retired.' I know I won't be doing anything for a while. I don't think the wife is happy that I'm home every day now."

Things can change quickly, though. This week, Walsh was hired as head coach at Santa Margarita High in Rancho Santa Margarita, California.

Cal Poly went 3-8 this season, leaving Walsh with an overall record of 59-66 at the school and 176-146 in 29 years as a collegiate head coach.

"It was a mutual decision," said Walsh, 65, known best around these parts for his 14 years as head coach at Portland State. "I met with (athletic director Don Oberhelman) before the season, talking about where the program was at. It didn't go the way we wanted it to this year. I just thought it was time."

How much was age a factor?

"I don't think with them as much as it might have been with me," Walsh said. "I still love the player part of coaching. There are other parts I don't. The stress part of it, the social (media) behavior, the academics. Cal Poly is a tough academic school. You really have to be on top of everyone. Our morning practices were at 6 a.m. because of all the classes and labs. To get up at 4 a.m. is not easy.

"I'm still young at heart, and mentally I feel young. But 43 years is a long time to be doing anything."

Walsh ended his college coaching career — 34 years of it spent in the college ranks — on a winning note with a 28-21 victory over Northern Colorado on Nov. 23.

"That was nice," he said. "But it was a difficult season. We could have finished 9-2 or 8-3 with one play here and there, but we couldn't make plays to win games. That wore on me, and it wore on the administration, I'm sure. They wanted to make a change, and it was a good time for that. Eleven years is a long time to be in one place."

Walsh was at Portland State even longer. It was the most successful coaching stop of his career. He arrived in 1993 after four seasons as head coach at NCAA Division II Sonoma State, succeeding Pokey Allen, who moved on to take over at Boise State.

"The guy is a legend in Portland," Walsh said. "He made Portland State a nationally known football school. Following him was no easy task."

Walsh compiled a 90-68 record at the Park Blocks, ushering the Vikings from Division II to FCS in 1996. Other than his first three years at the FCS level, his record was 78-47, with winning records in 10 of his 11 seasons.

"It was fun," Walsh said. "We won a lot of games. One year, we had nine players who signed NFL contracts.

"Going from Division II to Division I was really hard. We had to start all over. But the players hung in there, and we got good again. I liked the way we did it. The years we were really good, we had a lot of guys from the state of Oregon. That whole 14 years was a really good experience."

Walsh left Portland State after the 1996 season and spent two years as offensive coordinator at Army under Portland native Stan Brock.

"Getting to go to West Point was one of the highlights," Walsh said. "How many people gotten to walk that campus for two years? The honor to be a part of that, I won't ever forget."

Walsh is a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame of three schools — Portland State, Sonoma State and Moreau Catholic High in Hayward, California.

"That's humbling," Walsh said. "The best part of it all is the young people I've been fortunate enough to coach. Some of them aren't young anymore. What most of them are doing nowadays — you're just so proud to have been a part of their lives.

"Players make you who you are as a coach. I thought I was a pretty good educator, and I took the same mentality to the football field. That's their classroom. I was happy to have been able to do the thing I loved to do for 43 years."

How has coaching changed since he began his career in 1977?

"It's become more of a business," he said. "I'm not thrilled with that part of it. I don't like the transfer portal. The loyalty factor has diminished substantially, and it goes both ways. The players are allowed to transfer for their own personal gains, and the coaches have set that standard by hopping around. It's all about the money.

"The whole thing has changed dramatically, including dealing with parents. They think they can call the head coach and ask why Johnny isn't playing. The recruiting process has changed. You don't just recruit the young man anymore. There are a lot of headaches that didn't use to be there."

Another source of headaches is the violent nature of the game. Does Walsh worry about the future of the sport with the growing concern of CTE and head injuries?

"It's dangerous when you get to the higher levels, the colleges and the pros, but we've made gains in making the game safer," he said. "The equipment is better. Coaches are answering the bell. There is less full contact in practice than ever before. We never hit in practice after about our second game the last few years."

Walsh and his wife, Jody, live in Coto de Coza, California, a gated, private community in Orange County about nine miles from Santa Margarita High.

"There are two 18-hole golf courses," he said. "The beaches are 10 minutes away. There's everything there for us to enjoy."

The Walshes' children are spread out. Luke lives in Chicago, Sean is in Bend, and Megan — who has one child and another on the way — is in Milwaukie. Casey is in San Luis Obispo but will likely move to Orange County with his parents.

At some point, Tim will be a full-time husband, dad and grandfather. For now, though, he's still a coach.

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@kerryeggers


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