Coming off one of the most successful runs for the track and field program in school history — including three consecutive boys district titles, three straight co-ed titles and girls team district championships in 2013 and 2014 — head coach Ricky Knutson announced his resignation last Thursday. The announcement was made via a press release from the South Lane School District and came just weeks after the boys track and field team finished sixth at the state meet.
Knutson, in an interview with The Sentinel on Monday, noted that his decision had been a few years in the making and coming into the school year, he had told athletic director Gary Roberts that this would be his last season coaching.
“It’s been something that’s been in the works. But I think in order for student athletes and programs to be successful — and I don’t mean just winning and losing, I mean just giving the kids the chance to be their best — I think everybody has to be on the same page,” said Knutson. “From coaches, other programs, leadership ... I just haven’t been feeling like that’s happening.”
Knutson did not identify a specific team by name but noted that there are “programs that have a direct impact on one another that aren’t as in sync as they should be.”
“Let’s say we talk hypothetically. If I was coaching a program and for three years in a row the top returning girl didn’t come out for the team; the kids that were most dedicated and passionate about the sport were heading in another direction; and if I had a kid quit the team the week of the state meet — I’d have to stop and say, 'What’s happening in my program?'” said Knutson. “And what kind of culture do I want? And is this the kind of culture that is going to be best serving these kids?”
The CGHS cross country team, which is not coached by Knutson, has had top girls not return to the program; the top boys on the team play soccer; the boys team’s third best runner last year — who won districts in 2016 — did not run at the cross-country state meet last season.
“There would be riots if it were basketball and football and this kind of stuff was happening,” said Knutson.
Athletic director Roberts said, “I don’t know if me responding will make anything better. Ricky’s a good friend of mine,” when contacted about Knutson's statement.
Knutson, a teacher at CGHS, has been head coach at the school since 2012 and began as an assistant in 2006. Prior to that he coached track and cross country at Philomath and South Albany.
“I would hope things would get better at some point but I’m not doing this to make a point. It’s not a protest, it’s not a big political move or anything like that. When I coach, I’m all in,” he said. “And I’ve got to feel like our athletic department is, too. And it that’s not what we’re going to do, then I think we’re sending the wrong message to kids.”
Knutson reported that multiple high schools have reached out to about coaching, but he has no plans to move.
“I really like my job here and I don’t know that I want to move my kids. I really want to teach where my kids go to school. And I don’t really want to commute. I mean, I know people do it all the time but it automatically goes from coaching and spending time with my kids to spending more time on the road to coach somewhere else,” said Knutson.