Five-time state champion coach in Oregon takes job at Union High School

Steve Pyne, shown here in 2021, is taking over as the head coach for the Union Titans football program. Pyne resigned this week from Central Catholic in Portland, where he led the Rams to five Oregon state championships since 2013. Photo courtesy Jim Nagae
Steve Pyne, shown here in 2021, is taking over as the head coach for the Union Titans football program. Pyne resigned this week from Central Catholic in Portland, where he led the Rams to five Oregon state championships since 2013. Photo courtesy Jim Nagae

Steve Pyne, who lives in Vancouver, is taking on a new challenge

Paul Valencia

One of the most successful coaches in Oregon high school football history is bringing his playbook to Washington.

Steve Pyne, who had coached Central Catholic in Portland to five Oregon state championships since 2013, has accepted the head coaching position at Union High School.

“I’m excited to get to work,” Pyne said. “I want to put roots deeper in that community. Let’s roll up our sleeves and go to work and make a great experience for the kids.”

Pyne already has a footprint in the Vancouver community. He and his wife Erica have lived in east Vancouver for years. Erica is an administrator at Illahee Elementary School in Evergreen Public Schools.

Coaching at Central Catholic, a private school, has its benefits, but with players coming from all over the region, there is no “neighborhood” feeling, so to speak. Plus, the Rams play their games 45 minutes from campus.

“I’ve never been part of the community, if you will,” Pyne said. “I live in this community. I’m excited about that.”

Union opened its doors in 2007, and reached the state championship game in 2008 and the state semifinals in 2009. The Titans, a perennial playoff team for years, returned to dominance in 2017 and 2018 with back-to-back league titles, including a state championship in 2018.

However, the Titans have struggled the past two years, combining to go 5-13.

“I’m excited about the reset and seeing if we can recreate this (winning program) in some way,” Pyne said.

Understand, however, that while winning is important, Pyne sees football and all extracurricular activities as an extension of the classroom.

“I’m never going to judge our success on wins and losses,” he said.

Preparing athletes for life beyond football is the ultimate goal. Do that correctly, he said, and the wins take care of themselves.

“I’m going to expect that our players will be at school on time and in class on time. I’m going to expect them to be in the weight room on time, at speed training on time. And if they aren’t on time, they are learning to communicate,” Pyne said.

Life lessons.

“We really won’t know if we are so successful for 15, 20 years,” he said, looking toward the future and how these teen football players become winners as adults, as husbands, and fathers. “That is the essence of how you build a culture and you build a program,” the coach said.

That philosophy has led Pyne and the Central Catholic Rams to incredible heights. Pyne went 196-54 (.784) in his 21 seasons, including state championships in 2013, 2014, 2019, 2021, and 2023. He also coached Wilson in Portland to a PIL title and a 21-17 record in four seasons, giving him 217 wins.

His five state championships are the most in Oregon for a big-school coach.

Pyne was expected to tell his team about his resignation from Central Catholic on Tuesday afternoon. 

“First thing I’m going to do is tell them I love them and I’m proud of them,” Pyne said. “I’m going to thank them for all that they sacrificed for the program at Central Catholic. Then I’m going to tell them the reasons I decided to take this next step in my coaching journey.”

This is a new challenge, clearly, enough to grab the attention of any competitive coach.

Plus, he acknowledged, with an expected teaching job at Union, it is a good situation financially, with benefits. He said at his “advanced age of nearly 55,” he has to start looking at the long-term goals.

“My wife wants to retire much sooner than I do,” he said with a laugh. “Somebody needs to have health insurance.”’

He was impressed with his discussions with Griffin Peyton, Union’s principal, and LaMont Woods, the school’s athletic director. 

“The vibe feels good,” Pyne said. “If you don’t have those two people ready to rock ‘n roll, it doesn’t matter what I do.”

Principal, AD, and coach are on the same page.

“They sold me on their vision on where they want to go with the program,” Pyne said. “I get the sense that the community is fired up and ready to get back, to be more consistent and more competitive. I know they have been in limbo in the last couple of years. They are excited to have some stability.”

Several assistant coaches at Central Catholic have told Pyne that they will join him at Union.

Pyne said he is not afraid of the challenge again, and he will surround himself with assistant coaches who share his vision. He said he and his coaches also plan to be heavily involved with the youth program.

“I don’t care about wins and losses until it’s Friday night, as long as they are developing as athletes and good people,” Pyne said.

Retention will be key.

“Is that kid having such a great experience that they are coming back out next year? Are we treating them like they are cared about, loved, valued? That is the thing we want to create,” Pyne said. “We will set high standards for our players, our coaches, and our parents.”

He also loves the facilities at Union High School, with a turf practice field plus plenty of grass for more practice space.

At Central Catholic, he had one field with very little space, tucked into an urban setting. Plus, Central Catholic played its home games in Hillsboro, 15 miles away but a 45-minute drive on Fridays. At Union, it’s a short distance to McKenzie Stadium for home games.

Pyne will join the Class 4A Greater St. Helens League with three other experienced coaches, all with more than 100 wins.

“I’m excited about that,” he said.

Central Catholic has ruled the Mount Hood Conference in Oregon, a conference that has seen a lot of turnover in the coaching ranks for years. 

“That’s exciting to me, to have that challenge, to coach against those guys,” he said of Steve Kizer (Skyview), Mike Woodward (Battle Ground) and now Adam Mathieson (Camas). “Those guys have been in high-pressure moments, and they have a plan. You don’t win 100 games at the high school by luck. There is a plan, a process, an expectation. That part of it is really cool.”

While the news of Pyne leaving Central Catholic, and leaving Oregon, might be “shocking” to some, Pyne and his family are used to “shocking” news in Clark County.

In September of 2019, Steve and Erica made local news when their east Vancouver home was struck by lightning. The bolt caused considerable damage, and they were out of their home for quite a while. It has since been repaired. 

Steve Pyne would prefer making football news.

He did that this week, with his transition from Oregon to the Union Titans.

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