Former CV assistant takes over as PHS head football coach

Longtime Crescent Valley assistant Alex Firth has been hired as the head coach of the Philomath High School football program, Principal Mike Bussard announced Friday morning.

A part of the Class 5A Raiders staff for 18 seasons — most of those as offensive coordinator — Firth is currently shaping his staff, watching game film and familiarizing himself with the Warriors’ program.

Philomath will represent Firth’s first job as a high school head coach.

“I love Corvallis and want to stay in the area and there are really essentially only four opportunities in the area for me to coach,” Firth said, referring to Philomath, CV, Corvallis and Santiam Christian. “Philomath was always in the back of my mind and the job opened and I said, why not throw my name in the hat and see if I could be a head coach.”

Firth replaces Tony Matta, who led the team for the past three seasons. Matta remains at the school as assistant principal and athletic director at PHS.

Firth started out as the freshman coach with Crescent Valley in 2003 when Rick Riker took over as the program’s head coach. Firth and Riker were co-workers at CH2M Hill and they had also both coached at the Boys and Girls Club.

“I transitioned into a role as a co-offensive coordinator with him … he was calling the plays but he and I would scheme,” Firth said.

PHS football team room
PHS Warriors (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

After Riker resigned, Scott Sanders came on board with the Raiders in 2007 and Firth stayed on. Firth also had a connection with Sanders back to their college days.

“The first couple of years, we had Jay Schaake as our offensive coordinator, who was the former OC under Jerry Pettibone at Oregon State,” Firth said. “Jay left and it kinda fell on myself and Tim Euhus to run the offense and Tim eventually left … and I’ve been the OC essentially since then.”

Two years ago when Mike Connor succeeded Sanders as the coach, Firth again stayed on and shared the offensive coordinator responsibilities with the head coach’s brother, Casey Connor.

An eight-member selection committee of district employees vetted, ranked and interviewed applicants. Experience, demeanor and organization were qualities that stood out, Matta said, along with how he in general handled questions.

“He’s worked for three different head coaches over there and when you work with different people, you get a chance to see the way different people do things and that’s a nice piece to be able to have,” Matta said. “You kinda develop your own philosophy when you’ve been exposed to several; that’s a real positive thing in my mind.”

Firth has coached several athletes that have gone on to play major college football, including Talanoa Hufanga, who played at Southern Cal and was recently drafted by the San Francisco 49ers.

Bussard said plans have been made for an event with Firth on a to-be-determined date during the week of June 7-11 for players and families.

“We decided really with him in conjunction with Tony and I that the best time to do a meet-and-greet with the athletes and the parents is post-graduation, just because we have so many activities going on right now,” Bussard said. “He already has an offensive, defensive, special teams philosophy that he is ready to institute.”

Another coach who had been with the Raiders for several years, Will Love, will work with Firth as Philomath’s defensive coordinator.

“We had always talked about how great it would be to be coaches at a town with one school, where the whole town is behind that program,” Firth said. “Corvallis is kinda split between CHS and CV … here, the whole town rallies behind the program and comes out and supports you. So that was a real selling point for me. It satisfies that desire that we had discussed for so long in the past.”

Love had semi-retired from coaching when Sanders left the CV job. Also planning to come over will be D.J. Jones, who has been a longtime running backs and outside linebackers coach at Crescent Valley.

Firth said he needed to confirm, but it looks like former CV and Oregon State player Cameron Sanders will help with the team as well. From the previous staff, Firth is talking to those individuals but was able to confirm that Justin Marshall will remain with the Warriors.

Marshall, who works for the school district, played football at CV and is familiar with Firth’s system.

Said Matta, “The great thing about bringing some guys with you who know your style and system, you don’t spend as much time coaching coaches.”

As for football activities this summer, Firth said things are still a bit up in the air with OSAA rules and possible COVID-related restrictions along with the “winter sports” running toward the end of June. Firth would at least try to get an offseason conditioning program.

“I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do a whole lot until July,” he said.

In past years at CV, Firth said the program would conduct spring practice, which is allowed in normal years after May 31, during the week prior to the OSAA’s moratorium period.

“The idea was that the kids would actually retain the information rather than flush it, and after that moratorium week, we could go into conditioning and into practice and carry on from there,” Firth said. “If we can, that’s my plan, but I don’t know what the OSAA rules are going to be.”

Philomath will play down in Class 3A again this coming season under the terms of a two-year contract with the Oregon School Activities Association. The OSAA will then go through the realignment process with any revisions to go into effect for the 2022 season.

Firth is the football team’s third head coach since the program was suspended in 2016.

“We’ve come a long way since then,” Matta said, “and I feel really good about the direction it’s going and about Alex moving forward as the head coach for years to come.”


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