Tony Matta
Tony Matta, seen here asking for an explanation on a call, coached the Warriors for three seasons. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath High School’s Tony Matta is venturing into uncharted territory. This coming academic year, Matta will focus on his duties as assistant principal and athletic director and not coach a sports team.

“I love coaching and I think when I retire, whenever that is, I will seek out someplace where I can help,” said Matta, who coached the PHS football team for three seasons. “I have not had a year when I have not been involved in coaching. … It’s always been a part of what I’ve always done.”

But, Matta said the time has come to prioritize the big paycheck — his role as a PHS administrator — over the little paycheck as a coach.

Philomath High posted the head football coaching vacancy on April 19 and applications will be accepted until May 5. Matta, 54, knew that he would be moving on from the job.

“Since we had the conversation earlier in the year with the superintendent, I reached out to some coaches that I know that would be a good fit and have encouraged those coaches to apply,” Matta said. “Five years ago when they hired Rob Shader, there weren’t a lot of athletes. The program and the culture has really moved forward and I think we’re in a good place to find a high-quality candidate.”

Under Matta, the Warriors have struggled from a competitive standpoint. Philomath went 3-13 in two years in Class 4A and then dropped down to 3A as allowed under the state association’s rules. The Warriors went 4-2 in the pandemic-shortened season that ended April 9.

Matta will continue in his duties as athletic director.

Matta said the situation with his PHS administrative duties led him to step away from football.

“When I first came here three years ago, there were two of us hired as assistant principals and the workload could be spread out … Now, we’re not going to replace that other assistant principal so that workload then falls to me and (Principal) Mike (Bussard),” Matta said. “When I’m coaching, I can’t attend after-school meetings and IEP meetings and all of those sorts of things.”

Tony Matta talking to team postgame
Tony Matta talks to his players following an April 9 loss to Sisters, which would be his final game as head coach. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Football coaches are notorious for putting in long hours, especially during the season when it’s full speed ahead seven days a week. Matta said with his duties on and off the field, he couldn’t give 100% in either area.

“I’m pretty good at multitasking and can do a lot of different things but it’s just a matter of being able to do the things in here as the assistant principal and athletic director that needed attention,” he said. “With more duties as assistant principal with only one of us now, that conversation wasn’t a shock to me.”

Matta said PHS hopes to hire a coach who also works in the building as a teacher, which actually would be rare based on the current lineup of coaches.

“If you can do that, that’s a perfect world,” he said. “You hire a great teacher and a great coach, and you can find those people, they’re out there.”

However, there’s nothing that prohibits the high school from hiring an off-campus coach.

“If the best candidate’s not a teacher, then the best candidate’s not a teacher,” he said. “We’re going to hire who’s best for the program.”

Among the traditional sports, the majority of the high school’s head coaches are not teachers at the school. In fact, only Denee Newton in volleyball (administrator), Ben Silva in girls basketball (middle school teacher) and Daniel Mikula in swimming (Philomath Academy teacher, pool director) work in the school district.

The new football coach will step into a situation that’s a little out of the ordinary because of the pandemic. In a normal year, spring camp would begin in the second week of June, but that won’t be the case this year. Under the revamped sports seasons, basketball, wrestling and swimming will extend well into June.

Besides Philomath, Matta’s head football coaching career also included stints at Rainier and South Albany. He started his teaching and coaching career in the early 1990s and through the years, has been a head coach in high school football, wrestling and softball.

“I wouldn’t have gotten an education if it wasn’t for athletics,” Matta said, explaining that he learned early on that the best way to get into coaching would be to become a teacher. “I probably wouldn’t have even gone to college if it wasn’t for athletics. When I talk to kids, the difference that it made for me is the difference that I want it to make for them. But I can do that as the athletic director as well.”

Matta said the school would like to fill the position in May and not see it extend into June.

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