Coach moves back to college ranks
Last updated 2/22/2022 at Noon
If there is such a thing as a “football family,” the Fendalls — Neil, Lynne, Taylor, Hannah, and Gracie — are it.
Neil Fendall recently accepted the job as defensive coordinator and safeties coach for the Southern Oregon University Red Raiders (SOU) and is already on the job in Ashland.
It is a return to the college ranks for Fendall.
In speaking with The Nugget, Fendall first and foremost wanted to make clear that the rest of the family is not going anywhere.
“I am going to be home weekends on the weeks that I need to be on-site in Ashland,” he said. “The rest of the family is staying put because of all the places we have ever lived, [this] is the place we consider home.”
Taylor attends Linfield and plays football, Hannah is a junior at Sisters High School, and Gracie is in eighth grade at Sisters Middle School. Lynne works as the secretary to the superintendent at the district office.
“Clearly, we are enmeshed in the Sisters community,” Neil said.
Fendall, who coached football for five years in Sisters beginning in 2015 and most recently held the head position at the new Caldera High School in Bend, is no stranger to college coaching. Following high school jobs in Grants Pass and Oregon City, Fendall coached at the college level for a total of nine years, at Linfield and Cal Poly.
The new job came about over time, according to Fendall.
“This was not a quick decision,” he said. “I have known the head coach, Charlie Hall, there for many years and we have kept in touch, so when this opening came up he reached out to me.”
With that said, Fendall knew it had to be the right opportunity for him to make the jump.
“I wanted something that was a drivable distance from Sisters, with the right staff and some level of familiarity. We lived in southern Oregon before and the distance is very manageable,” he said.
“Plus, when I went down to interview, I got a really good feeling about the place, the players, and the other coaches, which sealed my decision.
“When I got out of college coaching I told people I was doing it to spend more time with my family, since that sounded like the noble reason to do it, but over the years it’s actually been my kids who have been positive about the idea of me going back to the college ranks,” he said. “We’ve been tossing this around for more than a couple of years and now that the kids are older it’s workable.”
In truth, Fendall explained, he was spending very long days at the high school level, away from home.
“You’re up early to prepare for teaching, have class all day, then spend three hours after school at practice, wrap things up and get home well past dinner time,” he said. “I would be home for half an hour, and it would be time for bed.”
Fendall says the draw for him of college coaching is the focus he can have on the nitty-gritty of the game without a lot of non-coaching duties to deal with.
Southern Oregon is in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), which is a governing body similar to the NCAA. The football team competes in the Frontier Conference, which is made up of Eastern Oregon, College of Idaho, and four Montana schools.
For other sports, SOU competes in the Cascade Conference, which includes more of the small colleges in Oregon.
The players are doing winter conditioning until spring practices start in March, according to Fendall.
“I am learning a lot about the language the coaching staff uses for the Xs and Os of playmaking and strategy,” he said. “The coaches are working together to label things in a way that works for our new group.”
According to Fendall, SOU is on the rebound after struggles in recent years following the death of their head coach and the challenges of the pandemic. But he thinks they are moving into a good place going forward.
“I am jumping in at the right time and I think the team will make up for the big gap of the past two years when the Montana and Idaho schools were not as shut down as things were here in Oregon, so they operated almost as business as usual,” he said.
Fendall is excited about his return to the college level.
“My brain thrives on the problem-solving and creativity of the game,” he said. “I have a massive addiction to the film and the diagramming, and I don’t just learn something and keep doing that. I am a tinkerer and like to try new things. I love it.”
In taking on a job away from home, Fendall points back to the Sisters community for all of its support of him and his family.
“We will always have a place here,” he said.