The longtime coach is retiring with the Washington state high-school record for career wins.
TUMWATER — Pat Alexander was in a panic.
It was 1977, Alexander’s second season as defensive coordinator at Tumwater High. The Thunderbirds were an awful reflection of his defensive mind the previous year, finishing 1-8. But the team opened the new season with a win against Yelm.
As the players began to celebrate, coach Sid Otton stopped Alexander on the field.
“You’ve got to come up with a victory song to sing in the locker room,” Alexander recalled of Otton’s spontaneous order. Alexander had five minutes.
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A Presbyterian, Alexander used a mashup of an African American spiritual he learned as a kid and a rally cry for Washington State University he saw on television the night before to create four stanzas. In essence: “I’ve got that T-bird spirit up in my head to stay.”
Tumwater won again the next week. And again the team sang in the locker room.
“If you do things more than twice, it becomes a tradition,” Alexander said of the 9-2 season. It was Otton’s first winning season since taking the position at Tumwater in 1974.
The current senior class has vowed to sing “Last Song” as its last song — hopefully in December after a state-championship win — as a proper sendoff to Otton. He’s retiring after 42 years coaching at the school, making winning more than a tradition.
Otton, a former lineman, is Washington’s all-time winningest coach (386-129) and ranks 17th in the nation. In a span of four decades, he’s led Tumwater to five state championships and 26 state playoff appearances. The Thunderbirds lost 22-15 to Prosser in the Class 2A state title game last year.
Tumwater (2-0) plays at Bellevue on Friday.
“We’ve stumbled a couple of times,” said Otton of the rare losing seasons. “But it’s been pretty dang good. Amazing, when you think about how everything started. It’s been done by great players and coaches who have a lot of ownership in this program. I just started when I was young and have been here a long time.”
Otton teased that he’s just happy his adopted town is known for more than where the Olympia Brewing Company was founded. Since the school’s first state championship in 1987, Tumwater has immersed itself in the Thunderbirds’ green and gold school colors and soaked up the winning.
At the core is Otton, 72, his wife and their three children, two who played for him. In his final season he’s coaching his grandson Cade, a 6-foot-5 tight end who has committed to Washington.
“There are things he’s forgotten that we still haven’t learned yet,” said Archbishop Murphy coach Jerry Jensen, who played against Otton’s team twice and lost to Tumwater in the state semifinals last year.
“You have to surround yourself with good people and do things the right way,” Jensen said. “(Sid) is a perfect example of that. He’s dedicated his life to his kids and teaching football the right way.”
When talking about Otton, many state he simply used football as an entertaining way to instill life lessons. Players have seven creeds they have to learn — class, accountability, work ethic, unity, mental toughness, competitor and never giving up. And Otton is most proud when he sees a former player succeed off the field.
Not that he downplays the winning. Otton quickly rattled off last year’s comeback win against ATM in the playoffs and the 1993 state semifinal win against Newport as some of his favorites.
He hopes the best is to come at the end of this season.
“As a coach, he’s phenomenal,” senior captain Jayson Haury said. “Knowing this is his last season, there’s no pressure. It just makes me want to play harder. It makes us want to play for him.”