For Walker, it’s time to walk away
Tucked away in his office at Mountain View High, Craig Walker points to photos pinned up on the wall, photos of his football coaching days with the Cougars, of former players who went on to compete at the next level. The days of nostalgia have set in. In about two months, Walker’s longtime Cougar career comes to an end.
Now, before the phone calls begin, before my inbox becomes flooded with emails, let me explain.
That scenario is a fantasy, to be sure. But 33 years ago — as unimaginable as it may be — Walker nearly was a Mountain View Cougar. If not for his younger brother being “a typical high school kid,” as Walker says now, the current Bend High athletic director might have been seen strutting around in the red and black of the crosstown archrival instead of his trademark Bend High navy blue.
Back in 1981, Walker, then a teacher and an assistant football coach at Baker High School after graduating from Oregon College of Education (now Western Oregon University), visited his family in Bend. When he arrived, his younger brother Chris, who played football for coach Clyde Powell at Mountain View, mentioned to his big brother that Powell wanted Craig to call him. There was a job opening with the Cougars.
Walker asked his brother how long ago Powell had sent the message. The response: “A few weeks.”
Typical high school kid.
Unfortunately for the then-25-year-old Walker, the job had been filled. Fortunately, Powell referred Walker to Bend High football coach and athletic director Joe Miller. At Bend High, from which Walker had graduated in 1974, there was an opening as an offensive line coach as well as for a health teacher. “I can do all that,” Walker, now 57, recalls telling Miller.
He was hired within a few days, beginning his 33-year run at the school, where he was an assistant football coach, a head football coach, an athletic director and a teacher. That run will come to a close at the end of this school year.
“He’s a guy who we’ll dearly miss,” says Bret Bailey, the Bend High baseball coach and longtime assistant football coach who is in his 31st year at the school. “He’s a motivator, a leader, a mentor, a great coach. He’s an idea guy. He has done so many things to that high school that people don’t realize, from putting up lights to putting up irrigation for practice fields to putting up concession stands.
“He is phenomenal. I think we’re really going to miss out not having him around because he’s a phenomenal leader and tremendous asset to the school and the Bend community.”
Walker is a legend, says Bend athletics secretary Genelle Standiford.
“He IS Bend High,” she insists. Walker scoffs, responding, “You’re going to be a legend if you’re here long enough. The tough part is making sure you’re a GOOD legend.”
He compiled a 157-93 record over 24 years as Bend High’s head football coach, which included 20 winning seasons, and after serving as athletic director for the past five years, helping the school upgrade its athletic facilities and hang Intermountain Conference and state championship banners from the walls of the gymnasium.
Walker, it is safe to say, has put the “tough part” behind him.
“Definitely a legend,” says Bailey. “He’s done great things there. He’s influenced a lot of lives. Phenomenal. A guy like him, they don’t come around too often.”
Walker’s journey just as easily could have followed a different path — several different paths, actually.
After marrying in 1981, Walker and wife Kathy made a pact: They would not settle down in either of their hometowns, his Bend or her Lebanon.
“So much for that,” Walker says now.
The same summer, looking to move on from Baker High, where he taught and was an assistant football coach for two years, Walker applied for a job in Roseburg. Despite his optimism about landing the position, he was turned away, leading him to think, “Crud, I’m going to have to go back to Baker.”
Then, he paid a visit to his family in Bend. Fate led him first to Mountain View — the new school in town — and then to his high school alma mater. He chatted with Miller, who had also coached at Baker High earlier in his career.
Walker was in town only for the weekend. A few days later, he and Kathy were packing their bags for a move to Central Oregon.
Suffice it to say, back-then Bend was not the vibrant city it is now. Walker perceives modern-day Bend as a major city in Oregon. Back in the day, however, it was simply a town, one that he recalls being boarded up. All along Wall and Bond streets, plywood covered many of the windows and doors. The big project going on, he remembers, was a sewer line being put in.
When they moved back to Bend in 1981, Craig and Kathy revised their earlier agreement.
“We said, ‘We’ll make a short stop here, kind of get ourselves grounded and launch from here,’” Walker says. “And that was 30 years ago.”
Other coaching opportunities have presented themselves throughout Walker’s time at Bend High, he says. Before West Salem opened in 2002, he received a call about the head football coaching job there. He was also considered for a job in Grants Pass at about the same time.
But neither destination was quite like Bend.
So this spring, after 33 years at Bend High, Walker will walk away. He will walk away from his alma mater, the same one shared by his son Beau, now 24, and daughter Danae, now 20. He will head into the offseason, if you will, with a to-do list of sorts — places to go, people to see, a bucket list to complete. The mindset, Walker says, is about adventure.
“Not for a minute do I think that I’m just going to garden for the rest of my life or mow my lawn all the time,” Walker says. “I want to do things. … I want to get to that place I call the ‘I’m bored and I need something to do’ feeling.”
No way, Walker says, would he have been able to last a generation, to do all he has done — as a coach, a teacher, and an administrator — without the support his wife, without the long line of quality coaches who have come and gone during his tenure at Bend High, without the school and district administrations that have backed him over the years.
No way could Walker, a prostate cancer survivor, have endured 33 years without being around high school kids, who he says have made him feel youthful each and every day.
He has kept a list on his office bulletin board that consists of tasks he has wanted to accomplish. After 33 years, the only unchecked item is to coach a state championship football team. But, as Walker says, “Dan Marino didn’t win the Super Bowl, and he made it out OK.”
“Even when you miss,” he adds, “you reach great heights.”