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Al Simpson: (1958-67): An extraordinary coach

Posted: Tuesday, Apr 2nd, 2013

Al Simpson was honored as the Oregon state high school football coach of the year with the Lions in 1963.

It is safe to say that there are very few coaches in the history of Oregon high school sports who can match the resume of Al Simpson, the former Cottage Grove Lions’ football coach. And to top it off, he did not fit the stereotype of an old-time football coach.

Simpson became the head coach of the Lions in 1958, but the position at the underdog school with the smallest student population in the league comprised of Eugene, Springfield, Roseburg and Coos Bay schools was not a steppingstone for him. He could have retired at that point and rested on his laurels.

Simpson grew up in Eureka, California, and he graduated from that small town high school in 1934. Unlike the majority of football coaches, Simpson did not even play football in high school. One of his twin sons, Patrick, related that Simpson did pole vault in track his senior year at Eureka High School. After graduation, Al worked at a mill for a year and enrolled at Southern Oregon College, then a two-year college.

Simpson did make the football team in Ashland and in one game scored three points with an old-fashioned drop kick. After SOC, he earned a B.S. degree in Physical Education from the University of Oregon. Fresh out of college, in 1939 he was hired to teach and coach at Ashland Junior High School, where he coached all the sports.

After a few years in the military during World War II, Simpson married and his twins sons (Patrick and Don) were born (Alexis came a few years later). He came back to Ashland and worked a maintenance job for the Ashland School District. After such an inauspicious beginning, few people would have guessed what he would accomplish in the next two years.

With little experience, Simpson was hired in 1943 as the head football coach at Ashland High School for their varsity football and basketball teams.

The ’43 football teams lost its first two games but then went on a seven-game winning streak, which included wins over the “big boys”: Grants Pass, Medford and Roseburg.

True to his unassuming manner, Simpson said he wouldn’t have been as successful as he was if all the “good coaches” hadn’t been in the military.

The success in football was followed by Simpson leading the Ashland H.S. basketball team to victory in the state championship.

Like the football team, they began slowly, with a 5-8 record to begin the season. Then they went on a 16-game winning streak. The Grizzlies’ last three wins were at the state tournament in Salem.

Before the fall of 1944, Simpson was lured away from Ashland to coach the Medford High School Black Tornado. At the helm, Simpson’s Medford team won the state championship.

Amazingly, Simpson had led two different high schools in two different sports to two state titles in the same year (1944). That feat has most likely never been duplicated in the history of Oregon high school sports. Simpson was named coach of year by the Oregonian’s sportswriter, L.H. Gregory.

When World War II ended, Medford’s former head football coach, Bill Bowerman, came back. Bowerman told Simpson he could stay on as the football coach, (Bowerman had his eyes on the Oregon Ducks’ track coach position with Bill Hayward ready to retire). Simpson could have taken the football job at Salem High School but decided to become the head coach for all sports at Southern Oregon College.

For the complete article see the 04-03-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 04-03-2013 paper.

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