The architect of the Bellevue football dynasty is starting over with the Eagles, who decided his past wasn’t a deal breaker.
Cedar Park Christian chose its homecoming football program to offer a public explanation of its controversial coaching hire.
Each week in the school’s keepsake, a different player or coach is featured. For its most popular game last week, the program spotlight turned to coach Butch Goncharoff, which it deemed “the elephant on the field.”
Goncharoff needs little introduction. His 16-year reign at Bellevue included a 67-game win streak, 11 Class 3A state championships (two have since been vacated) and a national coach of the year honor by Sports Illustrated in 2012.
His résumé also includes an ousting in 2016. Goncharoff was removed from his job after a Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) investigation, spurred by reporting from The Seattle Times that found illegal recruiting, payments to players and questionable acceptance of nearly $425,000 in stipends to Bellevue’s coaching staff by the booster club over a five-year period.
Bellevue football investigation:
However, that did not deter Cedar Park from proclaiming in its homecoming football program as “truly blessed” after Goncharoff’s hiring in January.
“The one thing that attracted me about this school was they looked into everything,” said Goncharoff, who had an open forum with many of the school’s 285 students and parents to answer questions they had.
“Some of the schools I talked to, it was just about football. Just about winning,” Goncharoff said. “These guys cared a little bit more about everything else. It was a long process on both of our sides. I appreciated the fact that they did it, and in their eyes they felt very comfortable and saw it for what it was.”
Despite the investigation, Goncharoff said he had coaching offers from schools locally and in California and Texas. Goncharoff called the past three years “frustrating” and denies the WIAA’s conclusions.
He and wife Jill wanted to remain in Bellevue with their grade-school daughter. At Cedar Park, about 10 miles from his home, Goncharoff replaced Bill Marsh. The latter is the former Eastside Catholic coach who had to step aside after three seasons at Cedar Park due to a recurring illness, CPC principal and athletic director Todd Lundberg said.
“There was some skepticism internally,” Lundberg said. “And we really need stability. So there was a lot of soul-searching on both parts to say, ‘Is this something you want to do for a while?’ Coach said, ‘Yeah, I want to get back to the roots of taking a small program, coaching up boys and teaching them to be young men.’ All the things you learn from football that are unique and doing it without all of the trappings, all the things that bigger programs probably bring.”
The Eagles were 4-6 last year. Under Goncharoff they are 2-5 but have qualified for the Class 1A district playoffs thanks in part to the small number of 1A schools in the district.
With a small roster of 32 players, Goncharoff has been forced to play freshmen this season.
“I’ve never played a freshman before; that one threw me for a loop,” Goncharoff said. “That’s what we have, that’s where we’re at, and the kids are battling really hard.”
With Goncharoff, Cedar Park has become reminiscent of Bellevue. The Eagles, who wear gold instead of yellow, have the same tiered huddle formation in between plays with the quarterback’s back to the defense as he gives instruction from the sideline. Archbishop Murphy coach Jerry Jensen, whose team lost to Bellevue this season, said there were similar plays, too.
Bill Duffy has attended open practices to watch his freshman son Matthew, a defensive back and wide receiver. A former player at Issaquah, Duffy described Goncharoff as patient, disciplined and transparent.
“We know that most of us have a very small chance of our kid playing in college,” Duffy said. “For us, it’s just about the experience and the quality of the person who’s handling our kid. Life lessons. The guy (Goncharoff) loves the Lord. He’s expressed that and has handled himself that way. That’s a big part of who Cedar Park is as a school. That’s important to us.”
Cedar Park hopes to build an athletic facility on its campus that would include a football field, a track and baseball field. At Lundberg’s estimated $8 million price tag, it’s the kind of project fitting for a wealthy booster inspired by a winning coach.
“There’s no magic pixie dust that makes this into a winner,” Lundberg said. “Coach and his staff have come in to instill discipline and respect for one another. We’re positive about the future. Now we’ve just got to build a program.”