Union assistant coach inspired so many throughout Southwest Washington
Mark Rego had a gift. A special gift.
Every time one would interact with him, he would make that person feel special.
This week, instead of our regular notes on high school football teams, I asked area coaches to give their thoughts, their memories, of Rego.
Officially, he was an assistant coach at Evergreen and then Union. But in a way, he was kind of everyone’s life coach, an example of how to compete at the highest level while showing respect to his players and opponents.
A family man first. A coach, too, at the high school level and youth level. And he worked security for Evergreen Public Schools. A natural fit because he always wanted to make someone feel secure.
Mark Rego, the offensive line coach for the Union Titans, died Saturday due to complications from cancer. There will be a Celebration of Life at 2 p.m. Oct. 20 at Union High School.
Here are just a few of the reasons for that celebration, from some of the coaches from Clark County.
Jon Eagle, head coach Camas:
(Eagle hired Rego as an assistant when Eagle was the coach at Evergreen years ago.)
“Above all else, Mark was the nicest man on the planet. Never had a bad day. Laughed all the time. Believed in faith, family, football — in that order. Back in the day he subscribed to every football publication he could find. Probably made (his wife) Kim scratch her head about it more than once. Loved the nuances of the game, loved the strategy, loved finding new drills to help his players, but most importantly, loved his players.
“You could always count on Mark’s players to outhustle, outwork their opponents — because they want to play hard for him, an overlooked quality among coaches. I will miss him because he ‘gets’ high school sports. He was a good friend, and a better man.
Cale Piland, director of athletics for Evergreen Public Schools:
(Piland was the head coach at Evergreen and Union. Rego was his O-line coach in all of those 13 seasons.)
“It speaks to who Mark was to have such an impact within the football community. He impacted so many lives, through his work with Clark County Youth Football and his coaching tentacles. He reached a lot of people.
“So much of having a cohesive staff that works together is trust, commitment. Never a doubt from my standpoint that those things were all going to work with Mark. I never really entertained doing anything different in that position. It was really a no-brainer.”
(Evergreen won the Class 4A state championship in 2004. Normally a balanced attack, the Plainsmen were having trouble throwing the ball in the title game. At one point, they ran the ball on 17 consecutive snaps, and Evergreen outscored Skyline 21-0 in the second half for a 28-14 victory. The offensive line paved the way in that game.)
“He was just so fired up with how we won the state title game. We were all fired up and proud and happy. But the way his guys played up front that day, the way we were able to run the ball, he was beaming. Rightly so. That was a pretty impressive performance that day, and those were his guys.”
Rory Rosenbach, head coach at Union:
“He was almost bigger than life.”
(Rego coached with Union the first three weeks of this season before his illness took him off the field. In Week 2, he was on the road with the Titans on their trip to El Cerrito, Calif., an incredible game that was decided in the final seconds.
“I know he had a lot of fun. Right after the game, he had this awestruck look, like, ‘That was amazing.’ He was proud of the guys for overcoming adversity. ‘We just won the game like that?’ He was having a blast.”
(For the trip home from California, there was a bus for the players and the head coach, but a van was provided for the assistant coaches. Rego refused to get in the van, which would have been more comfortable.)
“I could not get him off the bus. ‘I’m not leaving the boys,’ he said. That’s just who he was. He was a lunch-pail guy, and he was going to be with the fellas.”
(Rego’s last game as a coach was a win over Eastlake at McKenzie Stadium.)
“We got in an argument on the sidelines. There are two types of coaches. Ones who say, OK, whatever, and then there are coaches who will say I don’t think we should do that. You can’t have everybody on your staff be that guy but you can’t have nobody be that guy. He was not afraid to tell you his opinion.
“I was pissed. He was pissed. We were yelling at each other. Then, after the game, we wondered why we were so angry there. We were up four touchdowns, but at that time, it was the most important thing in the world. The kids must have thought we were insane.
“Good coaches will stand up and tell you what they feel is right, but it stays on the field.”
(They laughed about it in the post-game get-together later that night.)
Steve Kizer, head coach Skyview:
(Skyview vs. Evergreen, and then vs. Union, these teams had some great battles. The coaching staffs, though, had a lot of interaction throughout the years. Kizer and Rego also went head-to-head in the spring as both coached throwers in track and field.)
“He’s a guy a coach should strive to be like. Just real solid. Never said a bad word about anybody. Freaking really great coach. The lines he had over the years, just a great job. And even a better guy.
“That’s one of my favorites. He’s everybody’s favorite assistant coach. We were enemies, but he never said a bad thing about us. Just a class, good dude.
“If I could hire anyone off of someone else’s staff, Rego’s my first-round draft pick. No question.”
Matt Gracey, head coach Heritage:
“We worked with him this summer. We had them over a couple times, doing some work with Union. He’s just a good guy, no matter the rivalry. I don’t know anyone that guy had a bad relationship with. Everyone’s got those rivalries. I can’t think of a single person who didn’t like that guy.
“We should all aspire to be remembered the way people are remembering him. Father, husband, friend, and football coach.”
Adam Mathieson, head coach Mountain View:
“Always positive. To me, so positive. I never heard the guy say something negative or demeaning to anyone. He appreciated the opportunity to work with (his players.) The kind of person you want around kids.
“His kids were always so prepared. That’s a testament to his coaching ability. You always knew you were going to get their very best shot.”
(After games, when Rego’s team had won, he would seek out opposing coaches.)
“He had a way of tilting his head a certain way, putting a hand on your shoulders, and saying, ‘Good job Coach.’ Always in a warm, welcoming way. He’s a heart of gold.”
Terry Hyde, head coach Evergreen:
(Hyde had known Rego for more than 35 years. Rego got his coaching start in Clark County Youth Football. There was a moment of silence for Rego last week at the CCYF games.)
“Not just the football community, but the community as a whole lost one of our great people. This is a man of high integrity and morals who cared about kids.
“He cared about kids. He cared about the game. He wanted the game to be right. In order for the game to be right, you have to coach the kids right.
“He was so genuine a human being. He was truly one of God’s gifts to all of us.”
Mike Kesler, head coach Battle Ground:
(Kesler worked alongside Rego at Evergreen and Union, too)
“He’s touched a lot of kids in the county with the time he spent coaching, anywhere from CCYF all the way to high school. He’s a man who just gave his heart to everybody.”
“Off the football field, he’s a comedian. Once you got on the practice field or on the game field, it was all about business. He was a man of football. He studied everything. He always wanted to have that edge.”
(But offseason, he shared his philosophies. Although Battle Ground and Union are league opponents, Rego came to talk to Kesler’s coaching staff when Kesler was first hired as Battle Ground’s head coach, just to brainstorm offensive line play.)
“I learned something new from him almost every day.”
Dave Hajek, head coach Washougal:
(Worked on the Union staff with Rego for years, plus both coach track and field)
“He’s the one guy who was able to unite an O-line. He could have coached anywhere and everyone would have loved to have had him. He was just fantastic. He made those guys feel like they should, like they are special. Every team knows that an O-line carries a team but they are the last guys to get the notoriety. He made those guys feel special and important. You want the kids to know they matter and they have a vital part of it. That’s what Rego did.
“He was quirky and funny and a man’s man. He laughed at himself. He laughed at other people. He made you feel you were one of the guys no matter who you were, whether you were a freshman or a wide receiver coach on the staff. He made you feel part of the group.
“Everyone lost such a great man.”
Rick Steele, head coach Hockinson:
“I’ve known Rego for a long time. Every time you heard a kid talk about Rego, they loved playing for him. I never coached with him, but from the outside looking in, I always heard he was the best offensive line coach in the area, and the kids loved playing for him.
“Talk about a man who was always happy. Good golly, I never saw him without a smile on his face.”
Mike Woodward, head coach Woodland:
(Woodward was the head coach at Mountain View in the early 2000s. Before he became a head coach, he used to be a substitute teacher at Evergreen. Woodward said Evergreen put Clark County on the map in terms of high school football.)
“I used to do my own little research project and sneak around the school, taking tons of mental notes on how they ran their film sessions, the way their coaches interacted with their players, anything I could digest to figure out why they were so successful. It always stood out to me how much the kids loved Coach Rego.
“I’ve always said the best offensive line coach in Southwest Washington is Justen Wochnick (now at Camas) and he’ll be the first to tell you that he first learned this stuff while playing under Mark, and he absolutely loved him. That speaks volumes about Rego’s coaching ability, but more importantly his character and genuine love for the kids.”
One more, from yours truly:
“He was always happy to see you. Always. You run into Rego, you run into a friend. Always.”