Football focus: A coach’s journey from small-school La Center to huge campus in Arizona

Baseball player Rick Skinner grew up in Vancouver, coached for years throughout Clark County, and now is in charge of a huge football program in The Grand Canyon State

The man has been the head baseball coach at Hockinson High School, at Hudson’s Bay, and La Center, too.

In between, he was the head coach for Centralia College’s baseball program.

Oh sure, he has coached a lot of football over the years as well. But only one year as a co-head coach, a year most people don’t remember because the other half of his co-coaching gig did most of the talking to the media that year.

So around here, Rick Skinner is a baseball guy.

In Arizona, though, he is all football.

Big-time football.

Rick Skinner, a fixture as a baseball head coach and assistant football coach in Clark County for years, is now the head football coach for Maricopa High School in Arizona.
Rick Skinner, a fixture as a baseball head coach and assistant football coach in Clark County for years, is now the head football coach for Maricopa High School in Arizona.

In recent seasons, Skinner has been an assistant football coach with the La Center Wildcats, as well as the head coach of the school’s baseball team. A winner in both sports for a school with roughly the enrollment of 400 students when counting sophomores through seniors.

This football season? Skinner, who had never lived outside of Washington, has taken over as the head coach of Maricopa High School football team, a school with an enrollment of more than 2,000.

“The head coach experience is what they were looking at,” Skinner said regarding the interview process.

Clearly, it was not necessarily head coach experience in football. Maricopa, Skinner theorized, wanted someone who knows football (he does) and someone who has turned around a program (he has) and someone with leadership qualities. (Check.)

So even if he does not have years of head coaching experience in football, he had everything else, including the biggest thing the school wanted from a new coach.

“They needed a change in philosophy, or attitude,” Skinner said. “They were looking for something specific. Fortunate enough for me, it is what I bring to the table.”

Maricopa High School, about 35 miles south of Phoenix, needed a man like Skinner.

“Positive,” he said. “There was so much negativity in the football program, they felt they needed a change. I don’t think you’ve ever seen me yell at a player. I’m a teaching guy. Teaching moments, those are important. There is no better teaching moment than when someone fails or makes a mistake. 

“I think that’s what interested them.”

Skinner became interested in Maricopa by chance, with some unlikely timing.

Rick and Kerri had always thought of moving to a warmer climate, but they figured they would wait until their children had graduated from high school. Ethan did graduate this past June. Justin, though, is a sophomore.

Kerri got a job early in 2021 at an architectural firm in Arizona, but she was able to work remotely, from home.

But it was a sign, too.

Rick Skinner saw a job opening for head coach and teacher at a large school in Arizona, went for it, and got the job. Photo courtesy Rick Skinner
Rick Skinner saw a job opening for head coach and teacher at a large school in Arizona, went for it, and got the job. Photo courtesy Rick Skinner

“Maybe this is the right time,” Rick Skinner said.

“I happened to look for teaching jobs and coaching jobs,” Skinner said. “That was the first one that popped up. ‘I’ll apply, see what happens.’ It ended up working out.”

Skinner and family went from La Center baseball winning a district championship in the abbreviated 2021 season, to Ethan’s graduation, to packing and moving to Arizona. In a matter of weeks.

The new school year in Arizona begins in mid July. Football — heck, almost all sports — in Arizona have seasons but pretty much year-long workout plans. 

Skinner was coaching football as soon as he got there.

“As long as you have no pads on, you can have practice throughout the year,” he explained.

By the way, for Northwesterners such as Skinner, practicing football all summer in Arizona might sound a little …

“I know it’s crazy, but unless it’s over 110 degrees, it’s tolerable,” Skinner said.

What?

“It’s a different kind of heat.”

Huh?

“It’s very rare that the kids complain about the heat. They are used to it.”

OK then.

In his brief time in Arizona, the team has had to cancel just one practice due to the heat index.

It also appears that Skinner’s coaching is a breath of fresh air. The Rams won their first two games. They lost last week to fall to 2-1, but there is optimism around the program. The team won two games all of last season. (There was a full high school football season in Arizona, in the fall of 2020.)

“Everyone is very friendly here. Everyone is definitely willing to help,” Skinner said. “It’s been great. All the teachers and the admins and everyone we have met. People introduce themselves and ask if we need anything. It has made the transition a lot easier.”

Sports, of course, have a way of helping to make new friends. Skinner has been an athlete all of his life, playing baseball and basketball at Fort Vancouver. He graduated in 1993.

From there, he played college baseball at Mt. Hood and then Concordia University before playing one year of professional baseball in an independent league.

After his playing days were done, he briefly tried life in business before answering the call to teach, to coach. He finished his master’s degree at Concordia and searched for work as a teacher, beginning as a substitute in Vancouver Public Schools.

He got his first assistant coaching job with the Hudson’s Bay football program in 2003. By the spring of 2004, he was the head coach of the then new Hockinson baseball team. 

He left high school baseball to help turn around the Centralia College baseball team. But he remained an assistant football coach.

By 2014, he was named co-head coach of Hudson’s Bay football, and he also took over as Bay’s baseball coach. The football co-coach thing lasted one season, but he remained on staff with the Eagles for a couple more seasons as an assistant.

He made the move to La Center to be an assistant football coach and would eventually land the baseball head coaching job there. 

An interesting itinerary for sure.

And now, the big leap to Arizona.

“It’s almost like a college campus for crying out loud,” Skinner said.

For homecoming week, the school had a huge bonfire one night, and the community came out to be introduced to the football players. 

The first day of school was memorable, as well. Rick and Justin got out of the car, walked toward an outdoor courtyard under a roof, which is where much of the student body gathers before class. About a thousand people there, or more, just hanging out, talking.

“You should have seen his face,” Rick said.

Not in La Center anymore, huh?

Not that anyone in the Skinner family was complaining about La Center nor Clark County. It has been home for years.

But Rick Skinner and family have found a new home.

A very large football home.

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Janice F Slayden
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Janice F Slayden
16 days ago

Congratulations Rick!!

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