High School Football

A team of his own: Richland's Mike Neidhold finally gets job he's coveted

Fran Rish. J.D. Covington. Lonnie Pierson. Mike Neidhold.

The one thing they all have in common is that they have been, at one time, the coach of the Richland High football team.

But that's about where the similarities end. That is at least for Neidhold.

While the other three have etched their names in Bombers lore, Neidhold is just getting started. And he is still finding it difficult to even think that he has taken over a program that those three have built.

"It's very humbling," he said. "Those guys meant so much to the school and the program."

But whether he is ready, Neidhold will officially enter the Richland High record books tonight when he coaches his first game for the Bombers against Pasco and longtime friend Steve Graff.

"It's still kind of hard to believe," Neidhold said.

Neidhold has waited a long time for this opportunity. He has stood on the Richland sidelines for 21 years as an assistant and at one point resigned himself to the fact that was as far as his coaching career was going to take him.

He was passed over for the head coaching job three years ago in favor of Garrick Redden, who resigned in April to take a teaching job in China.

"The job came open and I applied and didn't get it," Neidhold said. "It was disappointing."

Disappointing enough that he contemplated not throwing his application back in the mix when the job came open again. But after some prodding from his wife, Toni, he figured it was worth enduring the process one more time.

Neidhold was subsequently hired in May to lead a Richland team that is expected to be at the top of the newly formed CBBN Cascade Division.

"He's a good guy and a good teacher," said Graff, whose son Lucas is Neidhold's godson.

Despite knowing that he was going to be the coach, Neidhold was hit hard last month when was in charge of putting practice plans together.

"I know the routine, but it was just now that I was in charge and had the final say," he said. "That's taken a little getting used to."

Neidhold, who is also a longtime English teacher at the high school, has been around the sidelines long enough to mesh several different styles to call his own. The Bombers will run the spread offense where the quarterback will set up in the shotgun. He has put together a defense that shifts around to keep opponents guessing.

But the most valuable thing he has learned from his experiences of playing and coaching is surrounding yourself with coaches who know what they are doing.

"It's not just me, but it's all of us knuckleheads," Neidhold said. "I learned you bring in the best guys you can and let coaches coach."

How well does that work? Neidhold will finally get to see tonight.

He and Graff have been talking about meeting at the park for the past week and getting an early start.

"I talked to him three times last week," Graff said.

Graff and Neidhold coached together at Pasco years ago. Graff was in charge of the defense under then-coach John Morgan, Neidhold the offense.

Neidhold left for his alma mater in 1986. Graff stayed on and eventually took over the Bulldogs program in 1997 and turned it into a perennial state power.

It took Neidhold a few more years to land his first head coaching job, but now his name will be forever scribed next to the all-time Richland greats in the history books.

"There is such a great tradition here to try and maintain," Neidhold said. "It's sometimes intimidating."