Gervais rides perfect storm to UW

Whether Steve Gervais knew it or not, a perfect storm was brewing around him. He had just led the Skyline Spartans to an undefeated season and a Class 3A championship - his third title coaching the Spartans - and at the same time Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham was looking for a new running backs coach.

"It was easy to watch him and see things and watch his program and during the process I saw an excellent coach who serviced his young men well, as well as being very successful," Willingham said Tuesday, as Gervais was introduced as the Huskies' newest assistant coach.

"At this time in my life I think it's a tremendous opportunity, and it's a new challenge in my life and both of those went together very well," Gervais said about accepting his new coaching responsibilities. "I think it's something I'm ready for and I'm very excited about.

"It's really a new chapter in my life."

Gervais served as Skyline's head coach for 10 years and compiled a 94-22 record. He took over a program that did not win a single game in its inaugural season of football in 1997 and, over the next nine seasons, led the Spartans to three state championships (2000, 2005 & 2007) and a runner-up finish in 2005. That same year he was inducted into the Washington State High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame.

But rarely do you see a high school coach - even one with Gervais' hefty resume - get an opportunity to coach at the college level. Gus Malzahn is probably the most recent example of a highly-decorated high school coach to move up to Division-1 football, when he left Springdale High School in Arkansas to become Houston Nutt's Offensive Coordinator at Arkansas. Malzahn was part of the Razorbacks' 2006 season in which they won the SEC Western Division championship.

But Gervais, at least until just a few months ago, had never harbored any intentions to move up in the coaching world. This past fall had been the first he had been a part of without adding teaching responsibilities to the mix. And while the Spartans accomplished all their goals for the 2007 season, Gervais knew the time might be right to make a jump to a new opportunity if one came around.

His youngest son Riley is set to graduate this fall, and Gervais had always promised himself he would be around to see all his children through high school. Riley, by the way, is looking forward to walking on this fall for the Huskies.

When former Washington running backs coach Trent Miles let it be known to his boss that he was going to leave in November, Willingham thought about Gervais. And why not? Willingham's own son, Nathaniel, played center and defensive line under Gervais.

"Having a son in the program made it easier to see the fine points and his attention to detail," Willingham said.

During December Willingham was talking with one of Washington's prominent alums, and Gervais' name popped back up in conversation, although in an unrelated matter according to Willingham. Things were starting to take shape.

Later that month Gervais went to talk to Willingham in his office. By then Gervais was starting to understand the gravity of the situation. "I told him I was excited for this opportunity and could not wait," Gervais said, recalling the conversation. "It would be a tremendous challenge for me, and if that opportunity came, I was ready to do it. So when he asked me if I was ready to accept that opportunity, I said absolutely."

And as with every coaching hire he makes, Willingham did his due diligence. "You just want to make sure it's the right fit," he said, adding that he came to the decision to ask Gervais onto his staff roughly one week ago. "Because a good coach is a good coach. Steve brings his own respect for the job he's done. It's a win-win for us and I'm excited about his presence on our staff."

Scott Gervais, Steve's brother - put the hire another way. "The pieces of the puzzle just fit in tremendously," he said.

"A lot of the things I've coached in my program are what Coach Willingham teaches here as far as working with young people," Gervais said. "I think my personality fits. I agree with what he believes, so it's very easy for me to work for a man and for a program that represents the same things I've tried to teach to my kids."

And those that have worked with Gervais the closest during his time at Skyline feel that's the key ingredient to understanding Gervais. It's the way he interacts with his players and the way he gets them to believe wholeheartedly in what the team concept is that sets him apart.

"There's a reason people call him 'Never Nervous Gervais'," said Matt Taylor, Skyline's receivers coach. For instance, the Spartans were behind 28-7 to O'Dea in the third quarter of last year's state title game, and the Irish had the ball. From that moment on, the Spartans piled up nearly 300 yards of offense and in one stretch scored two touchdowns in three plays to eventually win the game 42-35.

"He got that nickname because he doesn't freak out," Taylor added. "We've had so many comeback wins, the kids just believe, and they believe in him and his system."

"He is able to get success out of the kids through the program really early on," Scott Gervais said. "And when kids see success, they buy in."

"If you build great relationships, you develop trust and respect and kids are going to play hard for you, and that's what I want to do with these running backs," Gervais said.

Gervais, who was a head coach at Eatonville, Gig Harbor and Rogers previous to his stint at Skyline, worked with some great high school players. Don Rasmussen (Eatonville), Brandon Jumper (Eatonville), Bobby Lucht (Eatonville), Joe Jarzynka (Gig Harbor), Jason Johnson (Rogers), Cody Habben and Tony Chidiac (Skyline) are just a scant few of the hundreds of players that have been positively affected by Gervais and the way he approaches the game of football.

"I've never looked at it like, 'I've won a state championship, I'm happy'," he said. "Any time you go on the football field, you're challenged. I'm always challenged by the next game - whether it's the first game at Oregon or if it had been a high school game, I would have been challenged by that. And I'll coach as long as I'm challenged. I think that's what's anyone that has a competitive spirit lives for - whether you are a player or a coach - is to compete."

"He's an amazing communicator with young men," added Taylor. "There isn't a time in the game where they don't have anything but 100 percent confidence in his guidance. They would do anything for him. He can go x's and o's toe-to-toe with anybody. But it's more than that. He's not a screamer. He's not an in-your-face coach. He won't swear. All kids take things differently, but most don't like screamers. He's always going to try to find that bond to gain their confidence."

Gervais is known for being one of the brightest offensive minds that has ever graced Washington high school football. "With his background, he's seen a lot of things and done a lot of things, and there's a lot of areas he could potentially coach," Willingham said.

"My first responsibility is to work with these running backs and help them be the very best that they can be on the field," Gervais added. "Washington does some shotgun and there's maybe some things I can contribute or add to the package, but their package is very solid offensively and I'm just excited to be a part of it. Any way that I can contribute I'm going to do so."

The Spartans, especially with the emergence of sophomore quarterback Jake Heaps, were known primarily for their throwing prowess. But lost in the shuffle of passes completed and touchdowns thrown was the fact that Skyline running back Tyler Washburn set a Skyline single-season rushing record.

"Ever since we met with Coach (Mike) Dunbar at Northwestern, it (spread) was designed to spread the box out to run the ball," Taylor said of the Spartans' offense. "It opens up lanes. It widens things out. Our 100 percent plan this year was to run the ball because we weren't sure about how Jake (Heaps) was going to progress."

Gervais, now firmly ensconced in his new office, is currently pouring over NCAA compliance manuals, as well as reams of recruiting film. The recruiting game will be something new on his plate, and he couldn't be happier about the challenge.

"I think a lot of people are going to go, 'He's one of us'," Taylor said. "And when you talk to people out there, a lot of kids and parents are going to know who Steve Gervais is." Expect Gervais to recruit primarily in Washington and California, but his specific territories haven't been mapped out yet.

Expect Skyline High School to be on his list. Top Stories