In each of the past two years, a coach in his first year as a head coach at his school has taken his team to War Memorial Stadium and has come away with a state championship.

Two years ago, Lyman’s Dale Anderson led the Eagles to a state championship in his first year as head coach in the Bridger Valley. Last year, Meeteetse’s Matt Jensen did the same with the Longhorns.

But they haven’t been alone. In all, 26 coaches have won state titles in Wyoming in their first season as head coach of their respective squads.

Three times, coaches in their first years have won state championships in the same season — most recently in 2009, when first-year-with-team coaches Chuck Syverson (Thermopolis) and Casey Moats (Guernsey-Sunrise) both led their squads to state titles.

Coaches who won a state title in their first year as head coach of their respective teams:

Lew Kelly, Worland 1924
Dean Mickelwait, Natrona 1928
Okie Blanchard, Natrona 1937
Walter Dowler, Cheyenne Central 1941
Eddie Talboom, Evanston 1951
Paul Briggs, Natrona 1951
Grant Smith, Cowley 1955
Al Peyton, Tongue River 1956
Harry Geldien, Natrona 1957
Bill Sollars, Shoshoni 1959
Wimp Hewgley, Worland 1959
Fran Gillette, Powell 1967
Denny Brown, Byron 1968
Scott Nielsen, Cokeville 1969
Art Kissack, Cheyenne East 1970
Kay Fackrell, Lyman 1976
Jim McLeod, Cheyenne Central 1979
Jim Rooks, Jackson 1981
Van Hokanson, Star Valley 1982
Jim Hissong, Mountain View 1984
Mark Bullington, Southeast 1999
Alan Frank, Guernsey-Sunrise 2006
Casey Moats, Guernsey-Sunrise 2009
Chuck Syverson, Thermopolis 2009
Dale Anderson, Lyman 2012
Matt Jensen, Meeteetse 2013
(Honorable mention: Ray Kumpula, Glenrock 2002, who won a state title after five years away from being the head coach at Glenrock.)


The number of coaches who entered on top only barely outnumbers the number of coaches who left on top.

A total of 25 Wyoming head coaches have stepped down (or moved on or retired) after a championship season. This number of 25 includes two instances of the same coach leaving his school after a state championship — current Tongue River coach John Scott left Kemmerer after leading the Rangers to a state title in 1994 and did the same after helping Gillette win a state championship in 2000.

However, “leaving on top” hasn’t happened often recently. In fact, the last coach to do so was Green River’s Jason Fuss, who stepped aside after leading Green River to a state title in 2004.

Coaches whose final year at a school was a state championship year

Oscar “Oc” Erickson, Sheridan 1931
Okie Blanchard, Natrona 1939
Walter Dowler, Rock Springs 1940
Fred Chez, Sheridan 1940
Eddie Talboom, Evanston 1951
George Dorrington, Hanna 1952
Grant Smith, Cowley 1955
Al Peyton, Tongue River 1956
Carl Rollins, Sheridan 1958
Wimp Hewgley, Worland 1959
Henry Eckroth, Greybull 1960
Vince Zimmer, Powell 1966
Rich Nelson, Glenrock 1968
Keith Dodd, Glenrock 1971
Art Van Renssalaer, St. Mary’s 1972
Jim House, Green River 1973
Rod Flack, Kelly Walsh 1981
Jim McLeod, Cheyenne Central 1989
Ray Face, Worland 1989
Rick VanCleeve, Thermopolis 1992
Bruce Keith, Sheridan 1993
John Scott, Kemmerer 1994
Kay Fackrell, Evanston 1997
John Scott, Gillette 2000
Jason Fuss, Green River 2004


Some of the names from the first list repeat on the second — and with good reason.

Evanston’s Eddie Talboom (1951), Cowley’s Grant Smith (1955), Tongue River’s Al Peyton (1956) and Worland’s Wimp Hewgley (1959) won state championships in their only years as the head coach of those schools. Talboom went on to coach at Rock Springs, winning a state title with the Tigers in 1959. Peyton — who was the coach at Ranchester before taking over for the consolidated Eagles in the championship season in 1956 — left to coach at Shoshoni. Smith and Hewgley, meanwhile, were never again head football coaches in the state.

Okie Blanchard and and Jim McLeod, meanwhile, both came in and left on top in their stops at Natrona and Cheyenne Central, respectively. Blanchard won titles in his first (1937) and last (1939) years at Natrona, while McLeod won championships in his first (1979) and last (1989) years at Central.

Kay Fackrell pulled off a similar feat — he won a state title in his first year with Lyman (1976) and in his last year with Evanston (1997).

On the opposite end of this spectrum is Walter Dowler. Dowler won a state championship with Rock Springs in 1940, then left for Cheyenne Central, where he won a state title with the Indians the next year. Coaching against numerous former players, Dowler’s Indians beat the Tigers 8-7 in the second game of the 1941 season.

No school has had a tougher time keeping ahold of a championship-caliber coach than Sheridan. Four times, the Sheridan coach has left the Broncs after leading them to a state championship: 1931 (Oc Erickson), 1940 (Fred Chez), 1958 (Carl Rollins) and 1993 (Bruce Keith). No other school has lost more than two coaches after a championship season.

This season, at least seven Wyoming high schools will take the field with new head coaches. Will one of them continue the trend we’ve seen the past two years of coaches winning a state championship in their first year as head coach of that team?


One Thought on “Entering on top, leaving on top: Coaches who won a state title in their first or final year as head coach

  1. Pingback: Using last year’s results to see how likely you are to win a state title this year | WHSFB HQ — The Wyoming high school football blog

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