In 24 seasons of presiding over a baseball powerhouse at North Medford, coach Brett Wolfe admits that his mind sometimes drifted to another place.
Wolfe had an affinity for the salty air and cool ocean breezes of Seaside. On regular summer vacations there with his wife, Kim, he often daydreamed about what it would be like to live – and maybe even coach baseball -- in the coastal town.
“I used to peruse the field at Seaside every once in a while just to check it and see how things are going,” Wolfe said. “We kind of had this area targeted.”
Now Wolfe, 58, is living that vision. Since resigning as the Black Tornado coach last summer – ending a tenure that included a 494-198 record and 6A titles in 2007 and 2014 – he has moved on to take over at 4A Seaside.
Wolfe has settled into a rented home in Seaside, though he still has spent part of his summer making the 700-mile round trip to southern Oregon to coach the Medford Mustangs, a team composed mostly of college-age players.
He said Seaside is a “different lifestyle” than Medford, where air conditioning is a necessity in the summer.
“I don't think we've turned it on at all,” Wolfe said. “We've been on the beach every day that we're here, sometimes two or three times a day. We walked the beach for two hours this morning. We love it here.”
Born and raised in Medford, where he graduated from then-Medford High School in 1980, Wolfe is a proud Black Tornado. His children wore the black and red, too, with son Hayden playing on the 2007 title team and daughter Amanda winning a state championship on the 2009 softball team.
“My heart and soul is there,” he said.
In recent years, though, Wolfe sensed his time at North Medford was coming to a close. He said the culture there began to change and “just kept changing,” away from the school's traditional way of doing things.
When the Seaside job opened last year, he said it was a “perfect opportunity” to make the move. He called Seaside principal Jeff Roberts and athletic director Aaron Tanabe and met with them in December to discuss the position.
Roberts did his research on Wolfe, who is No. 12 on the state's all-time wins list.
“I was very intrigued on the possibility of Brett joining us,” Roberts said. “Everyone that I've spoken to in southern Oregon about Brett has nothing but great things to say about him, his work ethic, and his commitment to kids.”
Seaside was eager to bring Wolfe aboard. He wouldn't be able to commit to the 2020 season, so both sides worked out a plan to have assistant Ross Knutsen serve as interim coach this year before Wolfe could take over.
“I just said, 'This is where I'd like to be,'” Wolfe said. “This is where we wanted to end up. When it came open, I kind of put things in motion, and Ross was graciously willing to accept the role there. I would be able to finish the year and move up. It all worked out pretty well, except for the virus.”
Of course, due to the COVID-19 crisis, the 2020 season was wiped out and the start of the 2021 season has been pushed back to May 3. That gives plenty of time for Wolfe to build a framework for the baseball program, along with Knutsen, who has agreed to assist.
“I know it's going to be a lot different, because you're at the 4A level and kids are involved in all sports,” Wolfe said. “Obviously, you may have guys pulled in different directions. What I like about a smaller town is that it's more in the forefront in that you're supporting each other. You don't get lost in the big shuffle.”
Communication with other programs will be essential, he said.
“As I've gotten older, I've learned a lot more patience, less emotion,” Wolfe said. “I feel like I can communicate with other coaches, other staff, and develop a youth program and not interfere with anything that they're doing.”
He is hoping to re-establish a winning tradition ast Seaside. The Seagulls, who won state titles in 1957, 1960 and 1972, haven't finished with a winning record since 2011. They went 11-13 in 2019 in their first season under Dan McFadden, following the 20-year tenure of coach Joel Dierickx.
“My biggest hope is that Brett is able to bring stability to a program that has had challenges creating an identity,” Roberts said. “He obviously had a ton of success in Medford, just look at the win column.
“More important to me, however, is that much of our discussions centered around the culture he wanted to create and the impact on young people he has had over his career. I am excited about his interest in working with our youth programs to create a culture that extends well into the high school.”
Wolfe's program will benefit from a new indoor training facility being built by Seaside Kids Inc. at Broadway Park, near the high school's football and softball fields.
“It's going to take a little bit of the stress away from trying to get something done,” Wolfe said. “My plan is to start getting some young kids in there to get them interested in learning some skills and fundamentals.”
Another major plus for Wolfe is Seaside's artificial turf field.
“That's one of the things that drew me here, because I spent my whole life doing field maintenance,” he said. “I don't have to spend every night, weekend, morning, trying to take care of the baseball field.”
Wolfe originally planned to retire from teaching and work as a substitute at Seaside, but when a position opened in his field of special education, he opted to take it and delay retirement.
How much longer does he plan to coach?
“I told these guys I'd go at least another five years,” Wolfe said. “I'd like to go 10. In the next couple years, I'll retire and I won't have the teaching piece, and I'll have plenty of time to do anything else I want to do.
“I still want to be involved with kids. I find the greatest joy in working with kids, working with young people. Until that goes away, I”m going to stay with it.”
Photos of state championship events are available online from Northwest Sports Photography at 4nsp.com