On Jan. 8, 2009, the dropping of Western Washington University’s football program was officially announced. Since then, a lack of communication has frustrated many of Western’s former players.
Dr. Thomas Mosby, a Western football alum and former North Mason and Liberty High School head coach, stated that communication from the university’s administration has been lacking since the program disbanded.
“The door was shut,” Mosby said. “It hasn’t been open since.”
For the last 15 years, many former members of the Western football team have continued to support the university through the athletic department’s annual Bill Wright Golf Classic fundraiser, despite their refusal to entertain a discussion about reviving the program.
“We show up at the golf tournament in hopes that a conversation may be generated,” Mosby said. “But we never get one.”
Jason Stiles is a Roots Sports Northwest football broadcaster and member of the Western Washington University Hall of Fame for his time in the football program.
“I’m lucky enough to be in the hall of fame,” Stiles said. “I was honored, but I haven’t been back since.”
Stiles stated that a large fundraising effort was made in just six weeks, as Western football alumni raised over $1.2 million in pledges in hopes of keeping the program alive following its abrupt cancellation.
“We were told by the president at the time, [Bruce Shepard], to keep the program we would need to have $11 million,” Stiles said. “Obviously that’s unrealistic.”
Stiles described a fantastic moment for Western football years after the program ended while broadcasting an Apple Cup rivalry game. The Western alum commentated live while a former Western player sacked future eighth overall NFL draft pick Jake Locker.
“A kid playing for Washington State sacked Jake Locker,” Stiles said. “A year before, he was playing defensive end for Western.”
Many alumni of the program continue to leave a lasting impact across Washington state, often through educating and coaching the next generation of football athletes.
According to Mosby, a recent article on Western’s LinkedIn praised Western football alum Orlondo Steinauer, former all-American cornerback and member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, for his success as head coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League, which caught the attention of Western’s football alumni.
“We thought, ‘Shoot, you could do that 10 times over if you talked about all the great coaches who have come through Western football,’” Mosby said.
Last month’s Cleats vs. Cancer state high school football all-star game, an annual event held to bring awareness and support to families fighting cancer, saw four Western football alumni on the game's coaching staff.
Wayne Lewis, the all-time tackle leader in Western football history and former all-American linebacker, is the current defensive coordinator at Mount Si High School and is finishing up his 29th season with the team. He was one of the four Western alumni who coached at the Cleats vs. Cancer fundraiser event.
Charlie Kinnune, who was head coach at the event and recently retired from the Mount Si head coaching position, ending his 30-year run as the team’s head coach.
“Western produced a lot of good teachers who happened to coach,” Kinnune said. “[They] happened to play football at Western and left a lasting legacy.”
Another Western football alum who has found success in coaching is Tom Bainter, who was recently voted into the Washington State Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame and is the current head coach of 23 years at Bothell High School.
Bainter believes the lack of a football program at Western negatively impacts Washington state high school athletes, as many talented players earn fewer opportunities.
“More kids could play football if we had Division II and III type programs; the Division IIIs we have are all expensive private schools,” Bainter said. “When we lost Western, we lost a place where our kids can go play, continue school and still lengthen their athletic careers.”
Mosby laments the loss of opportunities he and his fellow alumni enjoyed at Western through the football program.
“It’s about the opportunity to get an education through football and passing that opportunity on,” Mosby said. “I don’t think [Western administration] appreciate that.”
Even though Western’s Division II program was cut 15 years ago, alumni still remain in the NFL, including current Giants defensive line coach Andre Patterson and current Cowboys long snapper/2014 NFL Pro Bowler Matt Overton.
Western alum Jeff Mills is proof that Western football also has coaching representation at the collegiate level. Mills has coached at many different programs, including as an assistant coach for the University of Washington, the defensive coordinator for the University of Nevada and his current position as a defensive analyst for Iowa State University.
“My 35th year of college coaching is coming up,” Mills said. “All I’ve ever wanted to do is coach college football, and I’ve been blessed to do that.”
According to Kinnune, the history of Western football has become largely forgotten.
“It’s a lost part of the university’s history,” Kinnune said. “A lot of us have lost touch with the university because of that.”
Lewis wishes the multitude of connections he made through the Western football program could be available to the new generation of students.
“I built lifelong friends; I was counting them the other day, and it’s 14 guys that I keep in close touch with,” Lewis said. “That’s something that I wish could still be happening.”
Theron Danielson (he/him) is a sports and recreation reporter for The Front this quarter. He is in his third year, majoring in journalism with a minor in film. His writing interests include sports, radio and student-led events. He enjoys musical theater, watching anime and yelling at the TV while watching sports.
You can reach him at email@example.com or on Instagram @therondanielson