Parrish calls one last play

POULSBO — When North Kitsap football coach Jerry Parrish woke up the morning of Oct. 2, he felt gratified at the efforts of his gridders the night before.

For the first time since 1977, North had beaten its arch-rivals the South Kitsap Wolves 62-7. But Parrish realized something else that morning.

It was time.

“That game put it all in order for me,” he said. “(North) played so well against a great opponent. I believe I made the decision that morning.”

The decision: to end his 32-year North Kitsap coaching career — though career seems hardly the accurate way to look at it through Parrish’s eyes.

“I’ve never gone to work,” he said, “But I’ve always gone to school.”

He informed North Kitsap High School principal Roy Herrera of his determination Oct. 11 and had a meeting to tell his players the next day.

Parrish’s prolific career has lasted 38 seasons overall, with the coach racking up a 208 wins, 146 losses and four ties overall. During his 32 seasons with the Vikings, he has compiled 174 wins and 130 losses to date.

Parrish’s dynasty has been established on the field — and off of it. Being a physical education teacher for as many years as he was a coach, an active member of the North Kitsap community and a family man top a lengthy list of accomplishments. He and his wife Gladys raised three children in the area — Becky, who is a doctor, Craig, an editor for the Bellingham Herald and Kirk, who now works for the Seattle Seahawks.

As a coach, he said he defines his philosophy as “demanding,” one of “high expectations,” that is “sometimes critical,” but ultimately “rewarding.”

“If you don’t correct a mistake,” he said, “You condone it.”

He is a coach whose meetings never begin at traditional times —but they do certainly begin on time. A Parrish schedule will often begin at 2:31 or 5:29.

“The expectation is to be on time,” he said. “Preciseness is important. The (players) need to know they’re responsible for their actions.”

His reputation for honesty is perhaps his best-known attribute.

“He’s always told it like it is,” said NK’s special teams coach and 20-year veteran to the team Wasser Schmitt. “His honesty and straightforwardness — he doesn’t pull any punches.”

His early days

Parrish was born on Aug. 10, 1934 in Everett. Growing up in Marysville, his first experience in football was in high school, playing as an offensive center.

“I was the No. 1 bag holder,” he joked about his playing experience.

Parrish first came into coaching in 1959, as an assistant coach — offensive line — under Dick Armstrong at Snohomish High School. He still regards Armstrong as his role model in coaching.

“(Armstrong) was hard nosed,” Parrish recalled. “Firm but fair.”

Sound familiar?

His first head coaching job was in Colfax, where for three years he was the skipper for the Bulldogs from 1967 to 1969, garnering a perfect 9-0 season his final year, the only undefeated season of his career. He led Colfax to a 20-5-1 record before coming back to Snohomish to coach the Pilchuck High School football team. He stayed at Pilchuck for another three years, finishing with a 14-11-3 record.

Through a friend, he learned that North Kitsap High School needed a new coach in 1973. His first step in getting hired for the position? Locating NKHS.

“I wasn’t sure where Poulsbo was,” he said.

Parrish met coach and the equally legendary Virg Taylor when he came to North Kitsap and the pair have coached together ever since.

Taylor said he remembers the year that Parrish arrived to North as head coach, the Vikings surpassing a .500 record and beating West Bremerton, a team that NK hadn’t beaten since 1939. Parrish and Taylor agreed that things started on the right foot with a group of hard-working “Norsemen” including his first quarterback Kevin Buckner.

“In 1974, we were even better,” Taylor recalled of Parrish’s sophomore season. “As soon as he got here we starting winning consistently.”

Taylor recalled a trip back from Forks in the ‘70s where North’s JV had played a game and the bus had broken down in Port Angeles.

“We were sitting in the bus, and it had been the 19th game we’d coached,” Taylor said. “We looked at one another and asked, ‘Why are we working so hard?’”

Taylor replied: “Because of our loyalty to Jerry — we’d stay as long as he’d stay. At the time, we thought, three to four years maybe. But we miscalculated that by quite a bit.”

Parrish’s most successful Viking season — barring the potential of this year’s high hopes — came in 1996, when North Kitsap got to the final eight of state competition, losing only to the eventual state champions Curtis.

For years, “J.P” — as he is called by his fellow coaches — has lived by the “Wing-T” offense, a strategy that uses ball fakes and crossing to put the defense in conflict.

“We haven’t had great big kids over the years,” he said, “So we’ve had to deceive the defense.”

His players have gotten bigger — both he and coach Taylor said for the first time this year North Kitsap out-sized South Kitsap — but the biggest change of his offense came two years ago.

A sophomore named Jared Prince, out of Kingston Junior High School, was throwing the ball like no quarterback North had ever had. Prince’s class included several players highly skilled and adept to the run-and-gun style. Parrish said he had to re-examine his nearly four-decade’s old offensive strategy.

Given Prince’s numbers — he surpassed North’s record of passing offense as a junior — it’s safe to say Parrish made the adjustment.

But Parrish said his years of coaching have brought him much satisfaction both on and off the field.

“The winning hasn’t been everything,” Parrish said. “I’m more amazed with how many kids have played for us and have gone on to be respectful adults.”

He mentioned that one of the best feelings he gets as a coach is when a wedding invitation from one of his former players comes in the mail.

Parrish said he has coached with the help of “the community, support of the school and the kids, a wife who is saintly, and having a wonderful continuity with the coaching staff.”

He has always encouraged his kids to have the same successes on the grid-iron and in the classroom.

“One of his focuses at North is not only to build athletes but to build people,” said second year defensive coordinator Dave Snyder. “He’s been a very good mentor and he’s always challenged me to do my best.”

His disciplined approach to most everything in football has earned him a reputation of being “old school.” But he’s had time to perfect his methods for nearly four decades.

“He’s a person who wants the best out of each individual,” Snyder said. “He’s a very disciplined person. He believes in having his ducks in a row.”

Parrish added that he is very proud of his players this year. But in many ways, they are the ones who can boast of having him in his final season — a season that is far from over. Regardless of the outcome, the lessons of Parrish are immortal and go far beyond the field.

“The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement,” he often says to his team. “A loss is hard to take. But you’d better profit from your losses as much as you do from your wins.”

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