Vic Lease (left) is succeeded as Mazama's coach by Orlyn Culp (right), who assisted in the program last season.
Vic Lease (left) is succeeded as Mazama's coach by Orlyn Culp (right), who assisted in the program last season.

One of the state's top 4A football programs has had a change at the top.

Vic Lease has stepped down as the coach at Mazama, where he went 85-24 during an 11-year run that included the 4A Showcase title in COVID-shortened season in 2021. The school announced Friday that Lease will be succeeded by Orlyn Culp, who joined the staff last season.

Lease, in his ninth year as the school's athletic director and vice principal, resigned as coach before the holiday break. He is looking to pursue a principal position in the district.

“I only have about four or five years left to retire from education, and I really want to finish it off as a building principal,” Lease said. “After that, I'm definitely not hanging up my whistle completely. After I retire, I'm going to leave my options open.”

Lease said he is “old friends” with Culp, who spent 34 years teaching and coaching in California before taking a position at Mazama as an English teacher last year. During the football season, he served as the JV head coach and assisted Lease with the offense.

Lease said he spoke with Culp during the season about following him as coach. Culp spent 23 seasons as a head coach in California at Yreka (1996-2015) and Red Bluff (2017-19).

“I told him he'd be perfect for the job,” Lease said.

The Vikings, successful with the veer offense under Lease, will have a new look under Culp.

“I run a variation of the shotgun spread, but I run it with a tight end,” Culp said. “I want to run the ball with physicality, so that part of Mazama football is not going to change. But I'm not afraid to spread the ball around and stretch the field with the pass. I like play-action pass. I like the vertical passing game.”

Culp met Lease when they were working at the Gold Beach Football Team Camp nearly two decades ago. They went head-to-head in nonleague games from 2013 to 2015, with Culp's Yreka team beating Mazama in two of three match-ups.

After his stint at Red Bluff, Culp and his wife relocated to Klamath Falls to be with their children and grandchildren. Their granddaughter, Sydney Baker, won state titles in both hurdles races as a freshman at Mazama last spring.

Culp, who turns 60 next week, said becoming a head coach again wasn't something he was prepared to do. He also was a head coach in track, softball and girls golf.

“I retired in California after 34 years,” Culp said. “But the game of football has just been a tool in my life. God has blessed me with opportunities through it to impact young men. That's really the part that I'm embracing, to be able to work with kids.”

He knows that following Lease will be no easy task.

“It's a high bar he's established, that's for sure,” Culp said. “I accepted the position because the program's in a healthy place. I've been in rebuild programs before, and those are difficult challenges.”

Lease has a career record of 129-91 in 23 seasons at Willamina (1995-96), Santiam (1999-2008) and Mazama (2013-23). In 11 seasons under Lease, the Vikings won nine conference titles, going 46-5 in conference games. They made 10 postseason appearances, making the quarterfinals seven times and the semifinals three times.

The highlight of Lease's tenure came during the COVID-shortened season. Mazama went 6-0, beating reigning 4A champion Banks and two-time reigning 5A champion Thurston before holding off Marist Catholic 27-21 in the 4A Showcase final. The Vikings hailed the victory as their first state championship.

“That year I'll never forget,” Lease said. “That group of kids, they didn't even know if they were going to get to play, and they just kept on grinding. They didn't flinch at all. When the season came, they took every opportunity that was presented to us. It was just an amazing group. They'll always have a special place in my heart.”