Lions hire new football head

With whispers swirling around the community for the past few weeks, Cottage Grove High School (CGHS) has now officially announced the hiring of a new head football coach.

“I’ve known for a couple of weeks,” said CGHS athletic director Matt Myers. “But I’ve just kind of been waiting to make sure that it was totally [done].”

After a lackluster year which saw the Lions go winless under first-year head coach Chad Smith, the Lions now put their hopes in the hands of Joe Polamalu who comes to Cottage Grove after six seasons as head coach of the Sandy Pioneers.

Notably, Polamalu brings with him an illustrious family pedigree in the game of football. Coming out of Winston, Ore. Polamalu’s cousin is Troy Polamalu, retired eight-time pro bowler for the Pittsburgh Steelers, 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 2020 NFL Hall of Fame inductee, and an alumnus of Douglas High School and the University of Southern California.

But the football connections between the cousins are far from superficial as Joe Polamalu was a standout athlete himself – playing linebacker for the Oregon State Beavers from 1987-88 – and arrives in Cottage Grove with 12 years of head coaching experience at the high school level.

“We got somebody with a lot of experience,” Myers said about the hire, and the experience doesn’t stop at football. Polamalu also has 18 years under his belt as a school counselor and will take over the position at Lincoln Middle School.

“He knows the drill. He’s dialed in. He’s a great hire and he was the one we were holding out for and really hoping for the last couple months and it worked out. We’re really happy.”

Polamalu most recently spent six seasons at Sandy High School (2013-2019) compiling a 29-30 overall record, though with the removal of one glaring down year – when the  Pioneers went winless in 2015 – the record improves to 29-21 with four playoff appearances in the six total years. Prior to his arrival, Sandy hadn’t achieved a winning season in football since 2004.

Before his tenure in the Portland area, Polamalu was head coach of the Douglas Trojans in Winston, finishing his five seasons with an impressive 40-19 overall record.

“He’s really even-keeled, doesn’t get rattled, really good with connecting with kids on a personal level so that they’ll buy in to the program,” Myers said. “He’s super steady. We always want a steady person on our staff, so we’re psyched.”

For the Lions, there is hope that Polamalu can bring this winning tradition back to a community that had gotten used to success under long-time head coach Gary Roberts. There were just two years between a forgettable 0-8 2019 season and an undefeated 2017 state championship run.

“You can’t turn things around overnight, but it feels like we’re headed in the right direction,” Myers said.

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