Brian Hamilton: They’ve come a long way, baby
Back in mid-August, the Bear River Bruins were nowhere near the football team that took the field Friday night in the Pioneer Valley League championship at Colfax High School.
After watching the Bruins work out in a punishing preseason practice – one that had their coaching staff clutching at its own sanity as mistake after mistake continued to interrupt camp – it was apparent that success would be measured at the south county campus in a much different light this fall as opposed to the 11-2 campaign of 2005.
In fact, after studying their season schedule, I had the Bruins pegged for – count ’em – three potential wins in 2006.
But, as coaches so often ask, what does some newspaper hack know about football?
“Well,” said Bear River co-head coach Terry Logue, “you and I were thinking pretty much the same way.
“Ten weeks ago, I really thought the Colfax game would be kind of meaningless. I couldn’t have dreamed of playing for the league championship outright.”
That’s likely because both Logue and co-head coach Scott Savoie were so focused by the sobering reality of returning just five seniors – and two starters – from last season’s championship team.
And then there were all the whistles stopping the progress of practices, as their coaches not-always-so patiently repeated themselves play after play in hopes getting something right or finding something upon which to build.
“Can we get ANYTHING right?” Logue found himself shouting, time after time.
As anyone within earshot of the Bear River practices could attest, the answer to that question – more often than not – was an emphatic “No.”
“Intense” describes Terry Logue about as well as “uncomfortable” sums up a root canal. It’s hard to imagine the amount of energy Logue must have had when he began building the Bear River program, because even after 18 seasons with the Bruins he coaches like a man possessed by perfection.
On the opposite side of the “co-head coach” title is Savoie, who shares most of the sentiments shouted by Logue but tends to deliver the message in a more composed manner. Though it might seem to those who watch as a “good cop, bad cop” routine, it’s clearly not an act.
“Scott knows me and I know Scott,” said Logue, as he and Savoie sat side by side on a sofa in their office following a practice this week. “I’m me. I can’t change. Even if we’re 10-0 or 0-10, I can’t do it any different. I think that’s a fault at times, but it’s also a strength sometimes.
“Those juniors were shell-shocked by me at the beginning of the year. But after a while they understand why I’m yelling – that it’s not just to be yelling, it’s for a reason. And after a while they figure that out.”
Savoie nods and smiles.
“I really do think we balance each other out,” Savoie said. “Though, it’s not necessarily ‘good cop, bad cop.’ I think that sometimes the kids can just tell by the look of my eyes that I’m not happy. And they know that when I yell, it must mean something’s really wrong.
“Look, I can’t be Terry and Terry can’t be me. But we do work well together.”
That’s been the case for 11 football seasons of sharing the same sideline. When Logue stepped away from the program after the 2001 season, serving two years on the staff of a Sierra College program that went 21-1 in that span, Savoie was promoted to head coach.
And in 2004, when Logue looked to return to Bear River – while spending Saturdays watching his son, Matt, play for Sacramento State instead of stalking the Sierra College sidelines – Savoie welcomed him home with open arms.
After all, Savoie said, he owed him one.
“I saved Savoie’s butt!” Logue proclaimed, sending both coaches into boisterous laughter before explaining that Savoie was one of about 75 applicants for a teaching job at Bear River in 1994. “He had been paper-screened. They were only going to interview five or six applicants. And I just told them, you’ve got to interview this guy.”
“He did,” Savoie said. “Terry did save my butt. But then again, he was without an offensive line coach at the time because Kelly Graham had gone off to Nevada Union.
“So, yeah, I think it worked out great for both of us.”
And, judging by the job they’ve done this season, their tag-team approach to coaching apparently is working wonders.
“Sometimes when you’re young,” Logue told The Union prior to the season being kicked off, “it’s more important to improve than win in those preseason games.”
How true. Bear River’s schedule seemed to work well with the youth movement the Bruins experienced in the early going. After blitzing Center 35-0 on opening night, the Bruins were brought back down to earth the next two weeks, suffering through back-to-back tough losses to Yuba City (24-7) and Woodcreek (20-7).
But even though they came up empty in the win column in those matchups, Bear River was improving and their coaches knew it. And the following week the Bruins’ 44-0 victory on the road at Marysville seemed to be just what the doctor ordered.
“It sort of was a snowball effect,” Savoie said. “I think the Marysville game kind of got that ball rolling and it kind of kept growing each and every week. And the games kind of kept getting bigger and bigger.”
And the wins just kept coming.
Heading into Friday’s matchup, Bear River had put together six in a row, including a 5-0 PVL record.
The coaches compare this season to the 1995 Bruins, who started 0-3 but fought their way to the Sac-Joaquin Section championship game, and Bear River’s 2004 squad, which came back from a 1-3 start to reach the section semifinals.
“We’ve had a lot of great teams here,” Logue said. “But as far as achieving to their ability, or actually going above and beyond their ability, I’d have to rank this team at the top.”
But it wasn’t done with smoke and mirrors.
“It’s a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice,” Logue said. “These kids have done this.”
“They’ve bought into this,” Savoie said. “They’ve done a great job of hanging in there, working hard and believing.”
Though the duo deflects any talk of the coaching job they’ve done – one of the best I’ve seen in 16 years of covering high school sports – it’s likely that without Logue and Savoie working the sidelines together, 2006 might have been the rebuilding season many (including at least one newspaper hack) had predicted.
Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. His column is published Saturdays. He may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 477-4240.
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