Sabbatical.

That’s the term that Kevin Swift used five years ago when he stepped down as head football coach of the Gold Beach Panthers, one of the most successful prep football programs in Oregon.

The combination of being the school’s athletic director, football coach and organzing the annual Gold Beach Football Team Camp for years on end had taken its toll on the husband and father, who says he stepped away in order to recapture “some semblance of sanity.”

In his wake, Swift left an enduring football legacy. During his 18-year tenure at GBHS he compiled an impressive 127-67 record, a dozen league titles and five trips to the state title game, culminating in two championships in two state classifications (2A & 3A) in 2007 and 2011. He barely missed a third championship back in 2004 when an injury to the Panthers quarterback eliminated a conversion try at Autzen stadium in Eugene.

“That’s the one that still hurts the worst,” said Swift.

Last week Swift’s prodigy, former player and Coach Justin Storns, tendered his resignation after four years at the helm.

“Justin wanted to spend more time with his family and I can certainly relate to that,” Swift said.

Through Storns, the Panther’s brand of football endured during Swift’s absence, something both Swift and the town appreciated.

“Justin did a fantastic job with the program; he had two outright league titles and shared a third,” said Swift.

So now what?

The former head coach has been a man of his word, staying off the sidelines during Storn’s tenure, even though Swift admits it was not easy for him personally.

“There can only be one coach at a time, Swift said. “I missed the action, being down there with the players...”

Swift wanted to return to coaching so much that when the head football coach position opened up last year at Marshfield High School in Coos Bay he was tempted to take it.

“I almost took the position; it was down to the wire and I was in some serious discussions with Marshfield but my motto has always been faith, family and football—in that order,” said Swift.

“As much as I love football, being a good husband is much more important to me. And if I never coached again?

Well, I was OK with that. After all, I dragged Julie up here from Southern California with our 4-year-old daughter. She sacrificed for me then.”

When the lights at Jay Johnson Stadium snap on this fall a familiar face will be on the Panther’s sidelines, though the road ahead—at least in the short term—will have more than a few bumps in it.

Gold Beach is down in numbers for athletes after graduating 14 seniors from a team of 24. Those numbers place GBHS precariously close to eight-man football, something Swift bristles at.

“I’m not familiar with eight-man football, nor do I want to be,” said Swift.

Instead, Swift said he will focus on building numbers himself. As a teacher at the high school, Swift plans to take the time to walk the halls to find fresh faces for the team.

Though Gold Beach’s numbers are low, Swift warns potential naysayers not to write off his team, claiming the Panthers “are in better shape than people may think.” Swift has formed competitive teams in the past with relatively bare cupboards.

Between bemoaning “all the rigors of head coaching,” such as assembling a coaching staff that doesn’t exist yet, Swift can’t hide his pleasure at getting back into the game.

“I didn’t think Justin was going to leave this soon,” Swift said. “He was doing a great job. I thought he’d be around here for awhile, but I’m ready to do this. I want to preserve the program, I don’t want to see us lose it.”

Swift forsees a competitive league in the Sunset Conference with the addition of 3A Coquille, which finished near the top of its classification last year and blanked the Panthers in preseason 50-0.

Outside of league play, Swift plans to bring back the Gold Beach vs. Brookings-Harbor Civil War game, where the two Curry County teams will face each other for the first time in more than a decade in the first preseason game of 2017.

“Reedsport should be good and Bandon under Freitag is solid. I see league as being a four or five-team race,” Swift said.

Perhaps the most notable part of Swift’s return will be the reinstatement of the Gold Beach Football Team Camp disbanded two years ago. The camp often brought athletes from across the country, Canada and even the United Kingdom, as well as prompting inquiries from teams in countries like Germany and Japan. According to the team camp’s website, it once enrolled up 3,000 individual athletes.

Swift says it will take some doing to round up participating schools for the camp and compared it to a closing business, explaining when a business shuts down customers find other places to go.

The new Panther football coach also indicates good things are happening with the facilities at Jay Johnson Stadium.

“We are getting a new scoreboard, are working at fixing some lighting issues, and are hoping to complete some construction to improve our overall program.”

Meanwhile, the man with a smile on his face roaming the halls of GBHS is busy looking over potential Panther football players.

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