(Zachary Kaufman/The Columbian)
David Hajek, a longtime teacher and coach at Washougal High School, is returning for a third go-around as the school's head football coach.
The school announced Hajek's hiring Monday in a press release.
Hajek coached the Washougal football program in 1997 and 1998 and then for six more seasons from 2002 to 2007.
Hajek's firing after the 2007 season was controversial, sparking a small-town debate that mixed school and city politics, and leading to two lawsuits. Hajek sued a parent, who also happened to be the Washougal chief of police at the time, alleging the parent defamed the coach. The parent/police chief countersued.
The process led to two school board meetings where "public comment ran heavily in favor of Hajek," according to a Columbian report in the spring of 2008. Emotions ran high on both sides of the issue.
Hajek, who remained at Washougal as a social studies teacher and the head track and field coach, said a lot has changed since then, and he is thrilled that he will be back on the Panthers' football sideline.
"It's where I grew up, a place that's very dear to me. As someone once said, I'm a Washougal guy," Hajek said. "It's a little redemption. I can right some things that happened."
Hajek has been a member of Union's football staff the past six seasons as the wide receivers coach.
"I really appreciate Union, (head coach) Cale Piland, the Union staff, and the kids. Union's going to have a run this year. They have some great kids," Hajek said, adding that he has become a better coach, learning from his colleagues at Union.
In fact, he considered staying on as an assistant to be part of that potential ride in the fall of 2014.
But Washougal "had a need right now for a head coach," Hajek said, adding that the environment around the school is "totally" different than it was when he last coached football for the Panthers.
Hajek could be considered a subject-matter expert on Washougal. He has lived there since the second grade. He played football and competed in track and field for the Panthers before graduating in 1987. He played football at Eastern Washington University before returning to Washougal to teach and coach in 1993. He has been the head track and field coach for 17 years.
"Coach Hajek demonstrated throughout the interview process all of the qualities that we are looking for in a coach," noted a press release sent out by Doug Cox, Washougal's athletic director. "He has a tremendous amount of highly successful experience as a coach and as a player.
"He is clearly passionate and enthusiastic about the sport, and the personal development of our athletes."
Cox was not the athletic director when Hajek was fired in 2007. In fact, Cox was an assistant football coach under Hajek at the time and was quoted in The Columbian article as the president of the Washougal Activities Association, which represented the school's coaches.
Hajek takes over for Bob Jacobs, who resigned following the 2013 season after four seasons.
Hajek has gone 26-51 in his eight total seasons at Washougal. He has led the Panthers to two postseason appearances. The program has had five postseason appearances since the 1990 season, according to gshlfootball.com’s archives.