Reflecting on a coaching career (Part 1): David Long, set to retire, reflects on his career at Columbia River


The girls basketball coach for two years, Long moved to the boys program and has led the squad for the past 30 seasons

Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a three-part series. Part 2 will be published Thursday and Part 3 will follow on Friday.

It is still there.

The clipping of a newspaper article from 1993.

It is on display in David Long’s classroom at Columbia River High School. The big headline notes that the Chieftains won a game between unbeatens, from Long’s first season as head coach of the boys basketball team.

“We were 0-6 that year,” Long says with a laugh, referring to the non-league schedule.

To be fair, at the time the then Chieftains were 2-6 overall but 2-0 in league play. They beat Kelso, the eventual league champion that year, to improve to 3-0 in league, still undefeated in that sense.

“It looks like the Declaration of Independence,” he said of the large, bold type. “Funniest headline of all time. We were horrible. We weren’t very good.”

Columbia River ended up winning one more game that season. Yes, one.

Not exactly a headline-worthy team.

Still, there must have been some signs of success.

Because David Long got a second year. Then a third. And a fourth.

David Long, the boys basketball coach at Columbia River High School, is calling it a career after this season. All told, it will be 30 years as the head coach in boys basketball, plus he had two years as the head coach of the girls basketball team. Photo by Paul Valencia
David Long, the boys basketball coach at Columbia River High School, is calling it a career after this season. All told, it will be 30 years as the head coach in boys basketball, plus he had two years as the head coach of the girls basketball team. Photo by Paul Valencia

Today, Long is in the middle of his 30th season as the head coach of the Columbia River boys basketball program, his final school year as a teacher and a coach.

He has experienced huge wins, tough losses, and a lot of in between. Even a name change, as he coaches the Columbia River Rapids now. As of today, his record is 451-262, giving him what is believed to be the most wins in Clark County high school boys basketball history. 

Oh, and add 32 more wins (and 14 losses) as the Columbia River girls basketball coach.

That’s right. Long’s first head coaching job was with the Columbia River girls team. He wasn’t sure he wanted to take that gig at first. Heck, he never intended on being at Columbia River for very long. In the beginning, he was just a part-time teacher, commuting from Lake Oswego, hoping to get a job in his home state of Oregon.

Life has a way of throwing a change-up, and David and Holly Long are so grateful that Columbia River and Vancouver became their home.

High school sweethearts, married soon after graduation, they both attended the University of Idaho as tennis standouts. They moved back to Oregon — David’s dad is legendary coach Sonny Long — and got ready for a basketball journey of their own. 

David and Holly Long have made for a great team. David as the head coach at Columbia River and Holly doing all little, and big, things behind the scenes to organize fundraisers and basketball trips for the program. They are retiring and moving to Arizona. This is David’s 30th season as the head coach of the Columbia River boys basketball team. Photo courtesy Holly Long
David and Holly Long have made for a great team. David as the head coach at Columbia River and Holly doing all little, and big, things behind the scenes to organize fundraisers and basketball trips for the program. They are retiring and moving to Arizona. This is David’s 30th season as the head coach of the Columbia River boys basketball team. Photo courtesy Holly Long

Only it ended up starting and finishing at one place — Columbia River.  

“I am so fortunate to have landed here,” David Long said last week. “This is not a place I picked on purpose. I’m a believer in fate. Things happen for a reason.”

After earning his degree at Idaho, Long was coaching his father’s system at a middle school in Lake Oswego. He was a substitute teacher. He remembers subbing at Columbia River once or twice. One summer, he got a call, asking him to become a part-time marketing teacher at Columbia River. He and Holly figured it would be better to be a “full-time, part-time” teacher than a substitute, and perhaps that would open some doors. 

So he commuted to Vancouver from Lake Oswego, hoping to get a traditional full-time teaching job and coaching position in Oregon.

Only, Oregon schools at the time were cutting back on funding. Nothing would materialize.

All these years later, Long feels fortunate how everything worked out for his family.

He taught only two classes a day at first. Then another class was added the next year. And another. Eventually, he became a full-time member of River’s faculty.

About a month before the 1990-91 basketball season, the girls basketball coach at Columbia River left the position. Long was asked to coach the team.

Initially, he declined. He just didn’t know much about the girls game. His dad, though, convinced him otherwise. Basketball is basketball, and it is a head coaching job.

“The very first girls basketball game I ever saw was the one I coached,” Long admitted.

But it was more than a stepping stone. It was the chance to turn a talented group of athletes into winners.

“I was so lucky because I got the best female class of athletes of all time. I didn’t know it yet,” Long recalled. 

His starting five, all underclassmen, became Division I athletes. They were stars in volleyball and softball. But back then, no one specialized. There were hardly any, if any, winter volleyball clubs. Nobody was training for softball all year long. 

“They had to play basketball in the winter time because there was nothing else for them to do,” Long said. “These girls, for most of them, basketball was their third sport.”

But under Long’s coaching, and with their athletic talent, the team went 10-10 that first year. The team had only won a couple of games the previous season.

“I could run for mayor,” Long joked. “They thought that was the biggest improvement.”

It would get better. In Year 2, Columbia River won league and district titles, then went to state. The squad lost in the quarterfinals to the eventual state champion and finished seventh.

While that girls season was happening, Gene Dettorre, longtime boys coach, had told a few people that it was going to be his last year.

Long interviewed for the boys job, got it, and, well, here we are, in his 30th season with that program, 32nd as a head basketball coach.

David Long, shown here in this 2020 photo, has been coaching basketball at Columbia River High School for more than 30 years. He is retiring after this season. Photo by Mike Schultz
David Long, shown here in this 2020 photo, has been coaching basketball at Columbia River High School for more than 30 years. He is retiring after this season. Photo by Mike Schultz

That first year with the boys ended with a 4-16 record. Long and the Chieftains made it to state in the second year. 

“This school, I’ve had unbelievable support from administrators. Our administrators support all of our programs in our school,” Long said.

Can’t coach in one place for three decades without other allies. 

“The great thing about coaching here at Columbia River, you get great parent support,” Long said.

Long’s teams won 12 league titles, five district championships and made it to the state tournament 12 times. Columbia River brought home trophies from seven state tournaments, including second place in 2009.

That 2009 squad was, indeed, special. River needed overtime to beat Bellevue in the semifinals, the last game of a long day at the Tacoma Dome. As they left the dressing room, Long brought his team to the large banner with the updated bracket.

“All the lights are dimmed. No one else left in the dome, just us and a few workers,” Long recalled.

There was the bracket.

“Starts off with the top 16 teams in the state,” Long said. “I had them stand there and just look. ‘Only two teams left, and you’re one of them. You will play the last high school basketball game of ‘09. You are playing for the state title. Take this all in. Tomorrow, it’s all business. Right now, enjoy this.’”

Columbia River would fall the next night against Franklin but the team was not even supposed to be there. Wasn’t supposed to beat Rainier Beach in the quarterfinals. Wasn’t supposed to beat Bellevue in the semifinals.

Just an incredible River run.

Long, however, won’t say that is his favorite team. He has too many favorite teams to list, he noted.

The 1997 team finished fifth in state, and it included victories over the teams that had won the previous two state titles.

Plus, coaching high school basketball in the 1990s was just different in Southwest Washington. Fewer schools. Large league. And, oh, the talent.

“When I first started, this was the hotbed of basketball in the state of Washington. Period. We had two, three Division-I guys a year coming out of here, NBA guys. We were all in the same division,” Long said. “I had great teams that would dominate leagues today but we were third or fourth place back then.”

His teams did not have to be proven winners on the court to be special. Long said even the abbreviated season last spring — the COVID season — was memorable. 

“I loved those kids. They were very coachable,” Long said, noting many of them played football. “None of those kids thought they would be playing high school varsity basketball. But they wanted everything they could get out of their senior year. That was fun. It was different.”

This season, Long has a young squad. In fact, Long noted that if he and Holly were still planning on living in Vancouver, he would have been tempted to keep coaching even after retiring from teaching. Instead, they are building a home in Arizona, to live closer to their grandchildren.

“My sophomore class is good. My freshman class is loaded. One of the best freshmen classes we’ve had in years,” Long said. “Whoever takes over is going to really enjoy what’s coming. These kids are really going to be good.”

Family will remain a top priority. Long said the secret to his longevity has been his family. Holly and David were a team from the very beginning.

“It’s been our life. My wife has put a lot of hours into this program,” he said, holding up an annual media guide that compares, in size, to that of a college program media guide. 

That’s all Holly. She also produces the end-of-year highlight video. Keepsakes for the players and their parents. 

Holly is instrumental in helping with fundraising and organizing the summer trips.

“I don’t know if a coach can do it anymore if he’s married and the spouse isn’t in, all-in,” Long said. “A lot of young coaches get out of it. If you don’t make your basketball program part of your family, you’re either going to get divorced or you’re going to quit coaching. High school basketball is not four months of the year.”

David and Holly have three grown children: Madelynn, Dryden, and Spencer. David was able to coach Dryden and Spencer. In fact, Spencer is now on his dad’s staff.

Sonny Long, who coached at Lake Oswego for 36 seasons, started helping out David’s program in the late 1990s and soon enough became an assistant coach. That gives the Longs three generations on the bench.

Plus there is assistant coach Jim Sevall. Not blood family, but family. He was David and Holly’s tennis coach at Idaho and has been on the bench with David since David’s second season as the girls coach.

Columbia River boys basketball is all about longevity. David Long is only the third head coach in program history, dating back to 1962. Long has coached seven sons of former players at Columbia River, as well. 

Yes, he’s been there a while.

Long, 62, said he is still excited about games and practices. But he acknowledged he is getting tired, slowing down. 

“I’m just ready,” he said.

He is ready to retire. He is ready to take that old newspaper clipping down from his classroom. And he is ready to celebrate a fascinating, successful career at Columbia River High School. 

He never figured on staying. Now David Long could never imagine coaching and teaching anywhere else.

Also read:

Advertisement
Advertisement
Receive comment notifications
Notify of
guest
2 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Tiffany Turnquist
Tiffany Turnquist
6 months ago

I can’t read this without tears and I know that only 3 parts could never tell his whole story. Dave Long IS Columbia River and there are hundreds of people whose lives are better because of him. I am one of them. He saw potential in a tall, gangly kid that acted out while trying to fit in and helped me believe in myself. Murphy, as he called most of us by our last name, became my identity even when my son had him as a head golf coach and when I see him out and about. “You retiring yet?” I’d always ask him and I’m excited for him but there’s going to be a huge hole left at CR. To this day he is still my favorite teacher and I’ve used some of his philosophies in my own career as an educator. I hope the stadium is finished at River soon because I imagine it could be filled with all that want to wish him well on his next journey.

Brooke
Brooke
6 months ago

Loved reading this and your comment. A true legend and heart of CRHS!