PORT ORCHARD — Ed Fisher’s coaching legacy at South Kitsap speaks for itself.
His teams won 80 percent of their games (197-49), made 17 state playoff appearances in 22 seasons, made three finals appearances and won one state championship.
He’s known locally as the coach in charge of what was once one of the most consistent and dominant football programs in the state, but soon every person from around the state and country who visit South Kitsap will get to know his name.
Fisher made the trip up from Arizona, where he currently lives, to Port Orchard last week as the South Kitsap School District Board of Directors made it official — Joe Knowles Field will become Ed Fisher Field this fall. A dedication ceremony is currently slated for Sept. 13, South Kitsap’s home opener against Rogers.
D.J. Sigurdson, an administrator in the South Kitsap School District and Fisher’s former assistant and eventual successor, was the one to notify Fisher at his home.
“First, I sat down,” Fisher said when he was told the news. “Then I was very appreciative. I was humbled and very honored.”
Speaking with the Independent by phone, Fisher fondly recalled his time in Port Orchard and the support he received from the community.
“When we were at away games, we would have as many or more fans than the home team,” Fisher said. “They very much enjoyed it. A sense of pride developed in the community — even though we were just ‘little Port Orchard,’ we could play in Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, Spokane. We could play with anyone.”
Hired at the age of 25, Fisher was tasked with turning around a program that had been successful throughout its first three decades but struggled following the departure of coach Stener Kvinsland in 1957. The five coaches who followed went a combined 35-93-6 until Fisher took over in 1974.
He had previously coached at a high school in Oregon for two seasons and spent one year at the University of Hawaii.
“It was real simple,” Fisher said. “I was hired to teach our students and coach our football team, and I just did my job and I did the best I could.”
After a modest start to his career, South Kitsap went 7-2 in 1978 and 1979 and finished 7-3 in 1980. The Wolves won double-digit games every year in the first half of the 1980s and reached the state championship twice — they lost to Gonzaga Prep, 25-7, in 1982 and to Juanita, 41-27, in 1984. Those Juanita teams in the mid-to-late 1980s were notable for featuring many of the kids from the Kirkland team that won the Little League World Series in 1982.
Despite those close calls, South Kitsap continued to be one of the state’s most consistent programs during the rest of Fisher’s run.
“The credit, as I explained to the school board, it goes to the players, the coaches, the administration, the faculty and the staff that we had assembled,” Fisher said. “They paved the way so we could be as good as we were. It’s about the people here that they had assembled. They did a great job.”
The dream of finally winning a state championship unexpectedly became a reality in 1994. Over the preceding two years, the Wolves had graduated a number of experienced players, including future NFL linemen Benji Olson and Tony Coats. They went 8-2 and 10-1 in 1992 and 1993 but were eliminated both years by Newport in one-score games.
The players stepping in were talented but untested at the varsity level, but South Kitsap rolled through its regular season schedule — its smallest margin of victory was 11 points.
However, the unheralded and relatively undersized Wolves lacked true star power and were still not considered serious state title contenders. They had played poorly in the first half the week before against Wilson before rallying and coming away with a 36-20 victory.
“I only felt real good for about the last 30 seconds of the state championship game,” Fisher said.
Cathartically, the Wolves beat their nemesis from the 1980s, Juanita, in the opening round and beat Newport on a last-minute touchdown by Justin Smith to reach the championship.
Ryan Lareau booted a 45-yard field goal — then a state finals record — to open the scoring in the first quarter. Brad Ecklund then rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries as the Wolves bested Walla Walla 15-10 in a tense, dramatic final at the Kingdome.
“Those kids battled so hard,” Fisher said. “They had a chip on their shoulder and they were determined.”