For one day last week, Jeremy Thielbahr wasn’t Eastside Catholic’s football coach.
Last Wednesday, Thielbahr, whose last two teams defeated Bellevue in the State 3A title game, accepted an offer to return to his alma mater, Sandpoint, and replace his retiring mentor, Satini Puailoa.
But Thielbahr turned down the job Thursday. He says he didn’t use the offer to leverage a better deal at Eastside Catholic.
“You build relationships with kids and families and administrators and board members and those relationships tugged back on me and that’s why I decided to stay,” Thielbahr said Wednesday. “I didn’t leverage it for a better deal.”
Sandpoint pursued Thielbahr with great earnest for a month, trying to lure him home. The timing of Puailoa’s announced retirement was not a coincidence.
Thielbahr was willing to take a substantial pay cut to go home.
“It’s hard when you’ve got Satini Puailoa, who is my best friend, and your former freshman coach (principal Tom Albertson),” Thielbahr said. “It came down to staying and wanting to build Eastside into a perennial national power. And the challenge of rebuilding a team that lost 24 seniors and has only 14 seniors next year. I thought there was more work to do here and I didn’t want to leave a job unfinished.”
Thielbahr asked for additional time before giving Knowles a final decision.
“It was a hard decision because of Satini and what he’s built there, and the influence he’s had in my life has been profound,” Thielbahr said. “That’s what really made me look at it in the first place. If it had been any other job I wouldn’t have applied.”
Before calling Knowles, Thielbahr talked with Puailoa.
“I’ve been offered jobs in Texas and California,” said Thielbahr, who played college football at Washington State. “This is a unique place and Sandpoint is a unique place. That’s why I considered it.”
Knowles said there are no hard feelings.
“We want somebody who wants to be in Sandpoint,” Knowles said. “I respect Jeremy’s decision. At the end of the day he did what was best for him and his family.”
Knowles and Albertson then decided to offer the job to the runner-up candidate – David Joyce, a head coach at Mountain Home, Arkansas.
Joyce impressed the interview committee. But when Knowles talked with Joyce on Tuesday, he pulled his name from consideration.
So Knowles has re-opened the position for applications.
Knowles said that although Puailoa resigned, he continues to oversee the returning players and their development.
“Our football program is in a great position right now,” Knowles said. “Our coaching staff is working its tail off. Things happen for a reason. We want a coach, like Coach Puailoa, who will be in the weight room. The real important issue to us is the strength and conditioning piece. We’ll be just fine.”
And if Sandpoint doesn’t find the right fit?
Don’t be surprised if Puailoa comes back for one more season.
Speaking of football, EC will open the season at home against defending 4A champ Gonzaga Prep.
G-Prep’s other nonleague game will be a home contest against sister school Bellarmine Prep.
G-Prep and EC have agreed to a home-and-home series. EC will visit in 2017.
Mead has changed its nonleague games, dropping Wenatchee and Southridge and staying closer to home by adding Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls.
Mt. Spokane has picked up Peninsula, which many on the west side consider to be a challenger in 3A next fall.
Another interesting matchup has 3A Kamiakin visiting Lewis and Clark.
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