Alex Heilig made a good first impression by coming to his job interview with a binder marked "Redhawks football" that was full of details on how he would advance the Port Townsend High School football program.
"He is prepared, professional and organized," said Scott R. Wilson, PTHS assistant principal and athletic director. "Chief among all those things is he is a character-based coach; he is good for kids. He is going to grow our culture of excellence."
Heilig, 30, only needs school board approval to have his coaching appointment confirmed. There were seven applicants for the vacancy caused by Nick Snyder's unexpected resignation in June, five of whom were interviewed.
"I was looking for somebody to come in and fill some pretty big shoes," Wilson said of Snyder, who in his second stint as PTHS head coach, won back-to-back league championships. "Nick did a great job of motivating our athletes and getting the most out of kids. Alex has the moxie, the ability and the skill to tackle the things we need. He's a great guy."
Parents of football players are invited to meet Heilig at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10 in the PTHS auditorium.
High school football practice starts Wednesday, Aug. 17; all other high school sports start practice on Monday, Aug. 22.
"Port Townsend has an excellent reputation as a community and school district,” Heilig told The Leader. “The coaching position appealed to me because of the reputation of the program, success, and the vision that Mr. Wilson has. In getting to know Mr. Wilson, we quickly realized that we had very similar visions for success and how to achieve it. It just felt like a great fit for me professionally and personally."
Heilig has taught in middle school and high school, with social studies his focus. No suitable full-time teaching position was open this year in PT. Heilig has applied for the district's new position of permanent substitute, a change recommended by Superintendent John Polm. That hiring decision could be made later this week, Wilson noted.
Heilig, 30, and his wife, Ashley (a nurse), have a daughter, Mia, age 15 months. They are in the process of buying a house in Port Townsend.
Heilig played football while attending Incline High School in Nevada. He began coaching in 2010 at Nogales High School in Arizona as an assistant coach. Moving to Washington, he was an assistant coach at Coupeville High in 2012-14 and spent one season, 2014, at South Whidbey High were he coached the offensive line, linebackers and was offensive coordinator.
He was head coach at Granite Falls High in 2015. The Tigers finished with a 1-9 campaign against 1A and 2A competition.
Granite Falls was an opportunity to help change the character of a program mired in losing seasons, he told The Leader. The season included a 56-27 loss to King's – the team that defeated PT 24-7 in the playoffs, and went on to place second in state.
"Our kids always competed. I think we made a lot of progress in teaching character and changing the culture,” Heilig said of his time in Granite Falls.
His teaching position at Granite Falls, however, did not fit his social studies background, and that was the reason he said he resigned both as teacher and coach.
Earlier this summer, Wilson said that the PTHS assistant football coaches – Tom Webster, Rick Hill and Terry Khile – would return under a new head coach. The assistants led the squad to a summer camp at Linfield College in Oregon.
“The assistant coaches all spoke up and said they want a head coach, they want a leader, and they were OK with me finding the right kind of guy,” Wilson said. "The head coach calls the shots and he answers to me, but it's his football team and his program.”
Coach Heilig said he's looking forward to the team's practices. He does "have a good sense of what the team has to offer," and that includes a switch to his preferred style of offense, the spread. It's a pass-heavy offense favored by many high school and college teams, and different than what PT has run for the last four years.
"I've run the Wing T and the Power I so I understand that you have to be flexible," Heilig said. "I think the spread can work with just about anybody you have."
PT lost a lot of talent to graduation; a solid group of juniors and seniors with considerable varsity experience. Those classes also worked with a spread offense while in middle school.
A new head coach represents an opportunity "for anybody to come and compete for the job, and earn a spot," Heilig said. "That's the attitude we're going to take the whole season. We want to put the best 11 people who give us the best chance to win the game."
PT’s 2016 football season includes five "home" games plus a Sept. 30 game with Chimacum, when the Redhawks are the "visitor" in the rivalry game played at Jefferson County Memorial Athletic Field.
The grid campaign opens with two 7 p.m. home games: Friday, Sept. 2 against 2A Sequim and Thursday, Sept. 8 against 2A Port Angeles. Non-league play concludes Sept. 16 at 1A Mount Baker. It's a new league arrangement this season, with 1A Olympic and 1A Nisqually teams playing each other once, and the top two finishers advancing to state.