It wasn't exactly a premonition, but Michael Robinson II felt a certain connection with Phoenix High School when he visited for a game as a St. Mary's assistant football coach this year.
It was enough for him to pose for a photo in the Phoenix weight room with fellow St. Mary's assistant Patrick Shed.
“I told him, 'You know, if a position ever came up at Phoenix High School, I would definitely apply. There's something special about Phoenix,'” Robinson said. “And sure enough, less than a month and a half later, that opportunity came available.”
The Phoenix job opened when Dave Johnson stepped down after the season, and in May, Robinson was hired as the Pirates' coach. In a twist, he is bringing Shed along with him.
It is the first head coaching job for Robinson, whose high school football coaching experience includes three seasons as an assistant at 4A Phoenix (2005-07) and two seasons on the staff at 3A St. Mary's (2019, 2021).
“It's always been a goal in the back of my mind to be able to put my vision of helping kids find their goals,” Robinson said. “But the time never seemed right.”
Robinson, from a military family, played high school football in Japan before moving to the Bay Area, where he helped Vanden High School win a state title as a junior in 1995.
He played in college at Southern Oregon, where he was a 270-pound blocking fullback for star tailback Dusty McGrorty. After college, he played and coached in semipro football in southern Oregon, playing as recently as three years ago with the Grants Pass Generals.
Robinson began working in child welfare in 2007 before switching to medical social work three years ago. That's about the time he starting teaming up with Shed, a former running back at UAB, to do free youth football clinics in Medford and Eugene.
“Through all of this, the desire to help these young men really excel has always been there,” Robinson said.
Robinson, whose only head coaching experience came in a stint with the Rogue Valley Trojans semipro team, faces many challenges at Phoenix.
Not only have the Pirates struggled in recent seasons – going 0-8 in 2018, 2-6 in 2019 and 0-6 last season – but the community still is reeling from wildfires that devastated the area last September. Robinson believes his experience in counseling will be helpful.
“My focus here is really working with the families first, understanding that these kids have a lot of dynamics going on in the household,” Robinson said. “My job is to help create an environment where they can feel safe and welcome, and know that we have their back.
“Already I'm getting calls from kids about things that aren't football-related, they're life-related. I'm helping to fill that role, be a nurturer as well as a coach.”
Robinson said he will encourage his players to be multi-sport athletes.
“It's going to help them stay eligible, help them be more versatile as an athlete, and to be really engaged,” he said. “Be committed. If you start something, finish. It's something that's kind of waning in our society right now.”
Robinson, who was the co-defensive coordinator at St. Mary's, will serve as offensive coordinator. Defensive coordinator duties will be split between Shed and Tim Seeley. Brent Bowker and David Potstone are returning as assistants and JJ Latu is joining the staff after coaching at North Medford last season.
Johnson, the head coach for the last two seasons, will continue to help the program as the eighth-grade coach at Talent Middle School, where he is the athletic director.
The Pirates have been working out three times a week for the past month, with about 35 players regularly participating. Phoenix has scheduled a scrimmage against St. Mary's for Thursday and is hopeful to play Ashland on Saturday.
Robinson said the talent level is “pretty promising.”
“We've got a lot of new faces, and some younger kids that look like they're going to be some good athletes down the road,” he said. “But you can tell they're green.
“Coming from a smaller school with smaller numbers, you learn pretty quickly that every person there is important. You've got to coach every kid. So far I'm very happy with what I see.”
Robinson and his wife, Jami, live in Central Point. Their daughter, Imaj, graduated from St. Mary's this year and is headed to Southern Oregon University.