Cale Piland jumped at the chance to return to Southwest Washington in 2001.
A year removed from leaving Evergreen as an assistant to become the head football coach at Juanita High School in Kirkland, Piland was back at Evergreen, as the head coach of the Plainsmen.
“I wasn’t looking for any job. The Evergreen job was the only job I would have pursued,” he said.
Good career move.
Now, the head coach at Union, Piland is a win away from 100 victories.
He managed two wins that only season with Juanita, but he said he learned a lot from that experience. Since then, he has collected 97 more victories in Southwest Washington.
A quick glance at the schedule reveals that he likely will get that 100th win Friday night against the program he led to a state championship.
Union, 6-1 and on a six-game winning streak, is taking on 0-7 Evergreen at 8 p.m. at McKenzie Stadium.
“I don’t think any coach takes a job thinking some day I’ll win a hundred games,” Piland said. “You take the job because you love the game and you love the opportunity to work with the kids.”
While Piland understands the head coach gets credit for the record, he prefers to say “we” a lot when talking about the milestone. His defensive coordinator now — Ken Frisch — had been his defensive coordinator every season, at Juanita, Evergreen, then Union. Other coaches, such as Mark Rego and Mike Kesler, have been with him for years, as well.
“When I say ‘we,’ I really do mean we,” Piland said.
Piland will become the fourth coach in the 4A and 3A Greater St. Helens leagues to have hit the 100-win mark.
Jon Eagle, who went 84-38 at Evergreen before he resigned — opening the door for Piland — now has 132 victories. Eagle won his 100th game during his three-year run up north as the head coach of Redmond. Eagle returned to Southwest Washington as an assistant at Camas, then took over for the Papermakers in 2008. Since then, he has guided Camas to a 30-9 record, giving him a combined total of 132-57.
John O’Rourke of Columbia River got to 100 in 2007. He now sits at 124-60, all of his victories with the Chieftains.
And Pat Hymes of Kelso won his 100th game last season. He now has 103 victories.
Piland’s Juanita season remains his only losing season. But he does not regret taking that job. In fact, now as the athletic director at Union, he hires coaches for other sports.
“I tell them you are going to learn more things your first year as a head coach than you have learned in your entire (athletic) life,” Piland said. “You cannot learn how to do it other than doing it.”
Piland went 5-4 his inaugural season at Evergreen. He remembers beating Kelso for his first win with the Plainsmen.
“We were young and inexperienced,” Piland said. “To get that win up there was huge for us.”
Then there was the 2004 state championship team. The Plainsmen went 14-0, giving Vancouver its first and only state title in football.
Piland said he remembers the semifinal victory that year even more, a road trip to Spokane to beat Gonzaga Prep.
The 2005 Evergreen team also has soft spot in Piland’s heart. It was practically a new squad. The Plainsmen started 0-2, then won seven in a row to claim another league championship.
“That group really overachieved,” Piland said. “They were a fun group to work with.”
In 2007, Piland moved to Union to start the football program.
In the second year, the Titans played for the Class 3A state championship, losing to Bellevue. The next season, Union made it to the semifinals, once again falling to Bellevue.
Oh, and all those victories that coaches remember? Well, they remember the losses, too. Union held Bellevue without an offensive touchdown but still came up short in that semifinal.
“There are games that stick with you,” Piland said. “That’s a game that will stay with me forever. We did everything right except win the game.”
His teams have done a lot more winning than losing, though. Which leads us to the milestone.
After 100, then what? The coach has no plans to leave the game.
“I’m having fun,” said Piland, 37. “I still feel I’m effective, and my family is in full support of what I’m doing.”
Family: That’s another change since the 2000 season in Juanita. Piland was dating his future wife at the time. Now, Lori and Cale have two children — Allie 6, and Josh, 3.
Time flies when you’re winning.
“We’ve had some really talented football players, but we’ve also had players buy into our philosophy both in season and out of season in how to build a strong program,” Piland said. “This is a by-product of that.”
Piland said he still has players from that one season at Juanita who keep in touch with him. He remains in contact with his former players at Evergreen, as well as the recent graduates from Union.
He is just as proud of that than any win-loss mark.
“The relationships you get to have … helping them grow into young adults,” Piland said. “The bottom line is it not about winning. It’s about education.”