When the Salem-Keizer School District went forward with the building of a new high school in west Salem, little did anyone know that a young coach, Salem born and bred and then a teacher and assistant football coach at Sprague High School, would soon take over the Titan football program and develop it into one of the most successful in the state of Oregon. More importantly, Shawn Stanley built that program on a foundation of principles designed to develop not only great football players but even better young men (and the occassional young woman).
With the creation of West Salem High School there was a need to reshuffle district personnel for the purpose of staffing the new school. Stanley, teaching PE and weight training as well as coaching football, was designated – without his knowledge - for reassignment to West Salem.
Sprague's loss was most definitely West Salem's gain. Stanley became a Titan, joining the football staff of Bo Yates as the defensive coordinator. He held this position for three years.When the head football coaching position opened prior to the 2006 football season, then Titans Athletics Director Ken Phillips knew he had his next head coach already on staff. Over the course of the next 16 seasons, Stanley has proven, over and over again, that Phillips was right.
Shawn Stanley is the classic case of what sports, and the teachers and mentors that touch lives through those sports, can accomplish. Stanley's mom – Joan – was a single mom who worked hard to make ends meet. “My mom is the greatest lady ever. She has been a Christian example to me and kept me grounded in my faith. My parents split when I was young. My sister Adrienne went with dad...I stayed with mom. My mom did it all on her own, she HAD to work all the time to make ends meet. So I had a lot of time where I was on my own. There were times when I was hungry, had shoes or clothes that were a little small. In fact, one of my first fights was with a kid that made fun of my clothes. Everett Bredimus was another person that came into my life and tried to help steer me in the right direction. Everett was my step-dad for a while and, being a former pitcher for the Yankees and Pirates, he understood what it was to be an athlete and what it took to play at the next level. He tried to show me how to work hard. I didn’t always listen when I was younger….I wish I would have. [B]ut there are many that have had it tougher than me and I truly believe that God had a plan for me to do this with my life and I would only truly be prepared and commited to it if I had walked in the shoes of the kids that need us most, to have felt what they feel.”
Stanley is a product of the Salem-Keizer School District, having grown up in south Salem, attending Sumpter (“...a few fights later I was probably the first student ever to be asked to transfer”), Liberty Elementary, Judson Middle School, and Sprague High School from which he graduated in 1990. He credits athletics for keeping him “off the streets (usually), out of trouble (mostly), and kept me coming to school everyday.” He “had lots of time free to roam, playing basketball at Woodmansee park, football at Judson, and wiffle ball in the front yard. Back in those days I would ride my bike to every part of Salem, usually looking for some kind of game to get involved in. I truly could have gone the wrong way without the help of a bunch of coaches that took the time and had the patience to deal with me.”
Stanley refers to himself “back in the day” as “a bit of a 'knucklehead”, but I “lived for recess and PE. Nerf football games rain or shine kept me going to school. Teachers soon found out that I would do just about anything to avoid missing recess….Mike Miller was a 4th/5th grade teacher that showed a ton of patience with me.” When he entered Judson “...the friend group from my block was what you might call a little 'edgy'. Some of them got into tobacco, drinking, and drugs as early as 7th grade. I knew if I got caught up in that that I would not be able to play. I wasn't perfect but that was really one of my first [forks in the road] in life...” Coach [Bob] Flood and Coach [Gary] Schilling were huge for me. They ran an AMAZING and competitive lunchtime intramural program that kept me from making bad lunchtime choices and soon learned, once again, that I would do anything to keep playing. [In fact,] I remember Coach Flood kicking me out of lunch intramurals for two weeks because I body slammed someone in team handball. Still hurts...[remembering] sitting and watching my friends play.”
At Sprague Coach Robin Hill came into Stanley's life in his sophomore year. He describes it as the “ultimate turning point for me. He challenged me from day one and changed the culture of our program. I remember him always being so positive but also holding me accountable in and out of school.” Stanley gives then Sprague football coach and defensive coordinator and track and field coach Art Lushenko credit for another key life lesson. “Coach Lushenko was the no nonsense coach and a person I am sure was real frustrated with me at times. I did track off and on, ran a little and threw the javelin. I think maybe my junior year I had a throw that would have me in the mix at [the] district [meet] but I missed a practice or two. [C]oach Lushenko left me at home. I thought I could just throw well and show up when I felt like it. [N]ot in his program.”
Stanley describes himself as “...honestly, a pretty average high school football player”. He did managed to pick off a pass on the very first play of his varsity football career (as a sophomore) and run it back 60 yards for a touchdown. For most of his high school career, however, he played quarterback. “[P]roud to say my senior year was Sprague's first ever playoff game win. We beat Mountain View. Then we hosted the first ever home playoff game at Sprague versus Gresham. Lost a close one.”
Wanting to continue his football career upon graduation from Sprague, Stanley attended Southern Oregon University for a year before finding a home at Western Oregon University where he moved from a high school quarterback to college free safety and punt returner. “From 1990-94 coaches like Arne Ferguson, Randy Wegner, and Bob Bass cemented my resolve to graduate from college and become a teacher and coach.” It was also at WOU where Stanley met his wife of 25 years – Angie - as well as two of his closest friends in life – Damien Ramirez who has taught PE and coached along side him for 17 years, Jay Minyard, current head coach at Sprague High School, and Joe Lorig Special Teams Coordinator at the University of Oregon.
After his playing days Stanley coached at WOU from 1995-1997. However, with Angie – now his wife – and a new daughter – Irelyn, being away from home seven days a week wasn't part of the family plan. He then returned to Sprague as a PE teacher and assistant football and track coach before his move to West Salem in 2002.
Over his time as a Titan Shawn has also coached both track and girls golf. But it's as a football coach that he has left his most lasting legacy. His teams have won conference championships nine times and he has been conference Coach of the Year nine times as well. His record: 142-53 over 17 years, making the playoffs 16 of the 17, and winning at least one playoff game in 15 of the 17 years.
Yet, with all of that success on the field, it was “[m]aybe my 3rd year as head coach and I was burnt out. I felt like I was sticking my fingers in a dam that had 500 leaking holes. I would rise and fall each week as a teacher, husband, and father based on whether we won or lost. I still cared how kids acted but it was not at the center of what I did. I knew I could not sustain what I was doing for myself or my family so I decided to proactively commit to coaching and modeling what I thought was REALLY important...I thought about the things that are really important to be successful, not only in football, but, more importantly, in life [and] I came up with: 'THE TITAN WAY' ”. Below are the 5 tenants of the philosophy as described by Coach Stanley:
1. Character - Who are you? Be who you say you are.
Physically: You have to be tough in the game of football but also in the game of life. Sometimes your back hurts, you have a headache, but you still have to get up and go to work and give your best, pay the bills, be there for your wife and kids, …
Mentally: We all have to deal with adversity and disappointment. Sometimes you work hard enough to deserve success but it still doesn’t happen. We need to keep going.
3. Team 1st - Today's society feels like it is all about ME….My goal is to be ANTI-INDIVIDUAL as much as possible in the things that we do. We teach kids to serve, to be part of something bigger than themselves.
4. Family - Make your family proud. If you look at just about every decision you have to make, evaluate it through the lens of “Would this make my family proud?” Should be a pretty easy evaluation to make.
5. Compete - Compete at everything you do. It does not matter who or what it is. Fight to win. Out-prepare your opponent. Create an edge.
Stanley says, “This is who we are. It guides the decisions that we make. Anyone can apply this or something similar if they are willing to live it and preach it and are willing to lose rather than violating it. Sticking to these principles will work. The truth is that if you get a group of young men or woman that ARE these things, WINNING WILL TAKE CARE OF ITSELF, and it will be sustainable and will affect generations of kids and their families…It always has been for me about being that dad or person of influence that so many of our young people need. I had so many people in my life that have helped me make something of myself. There are so many young people out there that desperately need the kinds of lessons and sense of purpose that is created by sports and specifically SPORTS IN THE HIGH SCHOOL.
The success of a program is always a group effort. Stanley serves today with many of the same assistants who began alongside him when he became the head coach at West Salem. He credits them with much of his success. Even those who have moved on served long stints before leaving. "When you find great people, don’t be afraid to let them know how much you appreciate them, and don’t be afraid to let them do their jobs.” he says. “I have always thought that our staff should model what we want from our team, a team based on a team 1st attitude where no one is more important than the other, including me.” No program continues to function at the level of the Titans football program without assistants and their families who “pull on the same oar”. That means belief in the mission, but it also means sacrifice. Stanley describes it as “really important to me” to credit “all the assistants [and their families] that have played such a big part of anything we have done.”
It was once said that “the most important assistant coach any head coach has is their spouse”. The life of a “football widow” is one of sacrifice, support, and sometimes loneliness during the season. Stanley says, “I have learned to find more balance over the years but there is no doubt I could not have done my job without [wife Angie]. She has allowed me to pursue my passion. She picks up my slack while I'm coaching. She's just as responsible, in many ways, for this program as I am.” Coaches wives often shield their husbands so they can pursue their passion. For 17 years as head coach, Stanley's #1 assistant coach has been his wife Angie.
Shawn and wife Angie have two daughters. Irelyn, a West Salem graduate and former Titan volleyball player and golfer is now attending the University of Notre Dame. She is a sophomore. Ashelyn is currently a Titan 9th grader and member of the varsity volleyball team. “My amazing family has sacrificed lots of time with their dad and husband over the years and I love and appreciate them greatly. They understood when “dad had to leave to go coach.” According to Shawn, even when the girls were little and he asked if they “wanted daddy to stop” so he could be at home more, they would say “no daddy, those boys need you!” I am the luckiest husband and dad in the world.
“There have been lots of great coaches who were essentially my dads”, Stanley says. “They taught me sports but, more importantly, taught me about being a better person. [M]any of them you know from our community. Men like John Welborn, Tim Temple, Jim Witt, Dr. Bob Kelly, Vince Trejo, Dr. John Stevens, Bob Flood and many others impacted me greatly at a time in my life when I needed it most.[T]hey might be more than just a little surprised that I would grow up to be honored like this, but hopefully they are proud.”
Mom, Joan, would have preferred he play soccer, “but I wanted to run into people” says Stanley. On the first day he checked out pads for the Oregon Cascade Colts he “slept in full gear, chin strap buckled, ready to go!” For 40 years Stanley has maintained that passion. As a result he has changed lives. His success on the field speaks for itself and makes him a great coach. But it's his success in creating better human beings that makes him a Beacon.