Rory Rosenbach reflects on his time as football coach with Union Titans

Rory Rosenbach, seen here in 2018 leading Union to a state football championship, resigned this week as the school’s football coach. He will become the athletic director at Glacier Peak High School in his hometown of Snohomish. Photo by Mike Schultz
Rory Rosenbach, seen here in 2018 leading Union to a state football championship, resigned this week as the school’s football coach. He will become the athletic director at Glacier Peak High School in his hometown of Snohomish. Photo by Mike Schultz

Rosenbach informed his team earlier this week that he had accepted a job as athletic director at Glacier Peak High School

Paul Valencia

It is an incredible opportunity at a less-than-ideal time.

One can be rewarded and experience a challenge simultaneously.

Rory Rosenbach just hopes his players understand.

If they have been listening to his philosophy through the years at Union High School, then they do understand.

Rory Rosenbach, who has led the Union football program since 2016 and won a state championship with the Titans in 2018, said goodbye to his players earlier this week. Rosenbach resigned his coaching and teaching positions at Union in order to become the athletic director at Glacier Peak High School in the city he grew up in, Snohomish.

Yes, in a perfect world, all of these changes would have happened months ago in order for the program to have more time to prepare for a new coach. Kevin Coad, an assistant on Rosenbach’s staff, has been named the interim coach for the 2023 season.

Rosenbach reminded his players, though, that he is following the same guidance he has given them.

“We don’t always get to choose the timing,” Rosenbach said. “You don’t get to choose when your moment is going to happen. You just have to be ready for it, so when it does happen, you’re prepared.”

Rosenbach coached at Glacier Peak for eight seasons before moving to Union. His parents live in the same house he grew up in, just a few minutes away from GPHS. 

“When I got a call from the guys up north … I have a lot of respect for them … and when they asked me to apply (for the AD position), that meant a lot to me,” Rosenbach said.

“My folks are getting a little older. I wanted to be closer to them. My brother and sister live up there, too,” Rosenbach added.

He initially left Glacier Peak for Union to be closer to his daughter Gabby, who was living in Portland. Tragically, Gabby died in a car crash in March of 2019. She was 18.

“One of the big reasons I came down here is not here anymore,” Rosenbach said. 

“The people in the community helped me through things. I’ll be forever grateful for that.”

In recent years, Rory and his wife Kelli went through the process of adopting two children. The process is complete, and sisters Ruby and Charlotte are living their best lives with toys, books, painting, and drawing as Rory and Kelli try to execute the best parenting maneuvers, keeping up with toddlers.

In fact, Rory gave up the athletic director duties at Union this past school year to return to teaching. He still coached football but as a teacher, he had more consistent hours once football season ended.

“I felt like I needed to be more present for Kelli and the girls. I felt like I missed out on a lot of stuff when Gabby was a kid,” Rosenbach said. “I didn’t want to do that again.”

After a year, he found out that he truly loved the unpredictability of being an AD. When Glacier Peak came calling, he and Kelli opted to give it a go. He is sad to be leaving the coaching ranks, but thrilled to be going back home.

He will leave with incredible memories.

His first game at Union? That was against Mountain View at McKenzie Stadium, and Rosenbach forgot to get a chain gang. Just prior to kickoff, he saw a friendly face on the sideline and told him to grab a couple of friends. Crisis averted.

“I was looking up in the stands,” he said. “It was Mountain View-Union. ‘Oh my goodness, this is awesome.’ The band was going nuts. Baby powder flying through the air. That was a really, really cool moment I’ll never forget.”

The next year, Union beat Camas at Doc Harris Stadium for the league title, ending the Papermakers reign atop the 4A Greater St. Helens League. 

The Titan would go on to lose in the opening round of the state playoffs, but Rosenbach said that loss ignited the Titans to the perfect 2018 season.

Union went 14-0 in its championship season, and in seven of those games, the Titans had to rally to win. In fact, they came back from two-touchdown deficits twice against the same team.

Earlier in that season, a trip to California set the tone for everything that was to come for the Titans. They had seven hours worth of detours to get around wildfires. They got chased by raccoons at the hotel parking lot after arriving so late into the night. Then there were no game officials. The game was delayed hours before officials who were at other nearby games made it to the field to allow the team from Washington a chance to play in California.

Union got a long kickoff return for a touchdown in the final minute of the game to win.

“There are things that galvanize teams. That weekend galvanized us,” Rosenbach said. “We’re good. We will not flinch after this.”

They didn’t.

“That was so cool about that team. They practiced so hard. Everybody did,” Rosenbach said. “So when guys got their opportunity, when their moment came, they were prepared.”

Rosenbach said that everyone from the players, coaches, and team managers were in a zone for state championship week.

“Our kids believed that we were so prepared that there was no way we were going to lose that game,” Rosenbach said. “Sometimes, you feel like you can’t do anything wrong. The kids were dialed in.”

Union defeated Lake Stevens 52-20 for the program’s first state championship. 

The Union championship season stands out in the record books, but Rosenbach said he was also inspired by the 2020 Union Titans. That’s a team that did not play in 2020 during the pandemic. Instead, those Titans played an abbreviated schedule in the spring of 2021.

“That might have been my favorite experience (as a coach), just what we had to do to keep ‘em engaged,” Rosenbach said. “Zoom meetings three times a week, pod workouts. If there was a playoff that year, they were going to make some noise. That was a special group of kids.”

In all, Rosenbach’s Union teams went 47-22 with two league titles and that state championship. Rosenbach, by the way, also won state titles as a head coach in Oregon. Before he became the coach at Glacier Peak, he led Marist to titles in 2005 and 2007.

Beyond the results at Union, Rosenbach said he will enjoy his off-the-field memories even more. He’d take the seniors on his boat in the summer, then have a barbecue and just talk about life with his players. He and Kelli hosted Friday night dinners with the assistant coaches and their families at their home after games, win or lose.

Now, he has said his goodbyes to the people who have meant so much to him.

“I’m just grateful to the community for embracing me and embracing our family and for trusting me and allowing me to mentor their kids,” Rosenbach said. “They trusted that we had a process. It’s not always going to be a great day. There are going to be hard days, and you’re not always going to get what you want. But if you continue working and continue trusting us, things are going to work out.”

Don’t be surprised to see Rosenbach back in Vancouver this fall. Glacier Peak comes to McKenzie Stadium to take on Evergreen in Week 4.

“This will always be a home for us,” Rosenbach said. “We’ll definitely be back.”

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