Time for a change….

Time For a ChangeTrojans bid farewell to Traeger

Kennedy football coach Randy Traeger to take coaching position with Willamette Bearcats

Tuesday, 22 July 2014 13:20 | Written by Lindsay Keefer, Woodburn Independent

Kennedy football coach Randy Traeger is moving up to coach at Willamette University after spending 35 years coaching at the high school level.Kennedy football coach Randy Traeger is moving on to coach at Willamette University after spending 35 years coaching at the high school level.

The Kennedy High School football coach has resigned from his post and will start off the fall season at Willamette University, his college alma mater, as a character coach and defensive line coach for the football team. That means an opportunity for implementing his character development curriculum, Virtue First, at the collegiate level for the first time.

“The timing was right,” he said. “I wouldn’t have thought a couple years ago that college football players would be as receptive to Virtue First, but they’re at least as receptive if not more so than high school students. They can use it just as much.”

Traeger established his non-profit Virtue First Foundation while he was coaching football.

“I started to focus on all the things other than the X’s and O’s of football,” Traeger said. “After 25 years, you don’t come back to a coach and say, ‘Thank you for teaching me how to catch a pass.’ So if development of the players character is the most important thing, why not make it a priority?”

He said he started to share a virtue of the week with his team and would start his practices asking, “What’s my job?” The team would reply, “To love us!” “What’s your job?” “To love each other!”( a credo he picked up from a well-known international character coach named Joe Ehrmann). “They bought into it the first day,” Traeger said. “The impact it had, I cannot begin to comprehend.”

Before long, the lessons he taught on the field were being spread by the students into the classrooms and community. It was at that point Traeger realized he should more thoroughly develop the curriculum for Virtue First, creating it in a way so that it’s not just applicable to teens on a football team, but also to classrooms, employers, parents and youth leaders.

Traeger, a former mayor and volunteer firefighter in Mount Angel who ran two successful businesses, Traeger Grills and Mount Angel Brewing Company, rationalized that to spread Virtue First nationwide, the collegiate level would be a great next step.

“Glen Fowles (Willamette’s head football coach) really opened the door for me to come,” Traeger said. “They have a strong core of players who are interested in growing their spirituality.”

Among the players is his youngest son, Derek Traeger, who will be a senior at Willamette this fall.
“Coach Fowles asked if having a son on the team would be a problem.” Traeger emphasized that he has never been overzealous (toward family). “I’ve coached all my sons and all my brothers except one.” he said.
Traeger’s departure leaves a somewhat uncertain fate for Virtue First at Kennedy.

“It’s Virtue First, not Virtue Second, so for it to continue the way it has been, they need to find someone with their heart in it,” Traeger said.

The school has hired someone who is definitely familiar with the process: Joe Panuke, the high school PE and health teacher and assistant coach for six years, has been appointed to replace Traeger as head coach this fall.

“I’ve learned a lot from Randy,” Panuke said. “I’ve learned it’s more than just winning football games, but helping the players to be better men and fathers and sons, helping them to become a better person and realize their goals in life.”

Traeger said he was pleased with the district’s choice.

“Joe is a great guy,” he said. “He’s committed to the character building we have established.”

Not only does Panuke have six years’ experience with Kennedy’s football team, where he’s been the defensive coordinator, but he’s also coached football and baseball at Marshfield High School in Coos Bay. Before that, he was a player on the Western Oregon University football team, where he lettered all four years. He is also an assistant coach on Kennedy’s baseball team.

Despite losing a lot of players to graduation this year, Panuke is positive about the team’s prospects. “We have a lot of new faces,” he said. “There will be sophomores and juniors playing Friday nights who are not used to it, so I’m excited about that. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

But he admits there will be a hole to fill with Traeger moving on.

“It’s not easy to replace Randy,” Panuke said. “He has coached football for over 30 years and it’s not easy to replace that knowledge. The kids are going to miss him. Everybody is going to have to pick up the slack and continue to get better every day.”

Athletic Director Kevin Moffatt also commented on the impact Traeger has left on the school.

“The guy is a pillar of our community and he’s done so much for our schools and kids,” Moffatt said. “There’s no doubt that it’s a good program, and I think our kids have benefited greatly from the Virtue First program, and just Randy in general. You can see it happening in the schools, but I think it’s also something that in 10 years, you’re going to see it make an even bigger impact on kids.”

Traeger still lives in Mount Angel with his wife, Lynnette, so he’s not going far. And he’s just spreading the same message.

“I don’t view it as a big change; I’m still seeking the hearts of young people,” he said. “I consider Virtue First my ‘encore career’ and to move it on to the college level, it feels natural to do that. I hope to build trusting relationships that will open doors for Virtue First.”