For the past 50 years, the Pendleton High wrestling team has known just three coaches — Rollin Schimmel, Dale Freeman and Fred Phillips.
The Buckaroos will be looking to start anew as Phillips stepped down at the end of the season.
Phillips, 46, who started at Pendleton at the start of the 2000-01 season, said it was time to put his family first.
“Last year, my daughter (Grace) looked at me and said, ‘You never watch me swim,’” Phillips said. “I realized I’d spent my whole life watching other people’s kids.”
Grace is a sophomore at Pendleton, who competes on the cross country, swim and track teams. His son Vance is in the fourth grade.
“I have been talking about it (retiring) for four years,” Phillips said. “Now people are saying they aren’t ready for me to go. This was a good group this year. I have known most of them since they were 5 or 6 years old.”
While Phillips would never put himself in legend status with Schimmel, but he certainly will be remember for his work with the program.
In 18 years, the Bucks never had a losing dual meet season. He coached 65 state placers.
“Some how, some way, we were always able to put a winning record on the mat,” Phillips said. “I like duals. You can move guys around and maybe get a better matchup. Sometimes it backfires, but then again, your guys have to go out and perform.”
Phillips doesn’t know what Schimmel’s record was when he coached, and he has no desire to know. Phillips only knows his own record (336-71) because his assistant coaches were persistent a couple of years ago.
“I have never been a person who has kept track of wins and losses,” Phillips said. “I was more concerned about watching the kids improve and getting them to state. Whoever gets the job needs to make it their own.”
Phillips will continue as an assistant football coach with the Bucks.
“I still want to be around kids, but I don’t want to be the head coach,” he said. “I know I will miss it. I have been participating in wrestling since I was 6 years old. I will miss the kids and coaches, they are my friends.”
The path to Pendleton
Phillips was an assistant at Portland State University for Marlin Grahn when budget cuts would have had him working for free if he chose to stay.
“I got call from Rollin asking me to come to Pendleton that same day,” Phillips said. “I had my job cut, and 15 minutes later I was pretty much offered a job. When we came here, we knew the tradition. When you come from a Division I program, you think you can do no wrong. Then you grow up and realize things over time.”
Phillips relied on some sage advice when taking the Pendleton job.
“When I was going to be a coach, I was told to go to a one horse (one school) town,” he said. “I had friends here that I went to college with. It was a really good opportunity when it was presented.”
Over the years, Phillips was embraced by the community, which he has appreciated.
“I’ve loved it here,” he said. “The community is supportive and it’s a fun place to be. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be here.”
During Phillips’ tenure as coach, he played a part in the building of the Schimmel Wrestling Building, which sits next to the school’s gym. The building, constructed in 2004, is 7,000 square feet and was built with donations from the community.
“I’ve been the only coach in this room,” Phillips said. “I will miss this room.”
Phillips the wrestler
Phillips grew up in Lebanon, a small community southeast of Salem.
It was there at he wrestled for his dad, Jim, a long-time high school coach and later a wrestling official.
Over the course of four years in the Warriors program, Phillips amassed a 112-12-1 record, but never won a state title. He was sixth at state as a junior at 157 pounds. As a senior, he was third, also at 157.
“We had a really good relationship,” Phillips said of his dad. “When we left practice, or a tournament, it stayed there, unless I brought it up. I enjoyed wrestling for him. I also played football and golfed for him.”
After high school, Phillips went to Oregon State, a school where his dad played golf and his mom Cathy was a cheerleader.
“My parents had season tickets to Oregon State basketball,” Phillips said. “Growing up, I thought I would play basketball for Ralph Miller. I grew up a Beaver, and grew up hating green and yellow. For a guy who grew up wearing nothing but black and orange, here I am.”
After one year at OSU, Phillips transferred to Southern Oregon University, where he was a three-time all-American at 158 pounds in 1993 and 1995-96 for the Raiders. Those years, he placed seventh, fourth and third at the NAIA national tournament.