Twice during Eastlake’s opener in Oregon, people confused Pat Parnell for a high school student. Now Parnell, who was previously Eastlake’s defensive coordinator, is the Wolves’ interim head coach after Gene Dales unexpectedly retired Monday.
Parnell, 26, will make his debut on Friday against Seattle Prep in a game that will finally allow the program to take the first step to move on.
“I’m young, but this is something I’ve dreamt about and planned and tried to prepare myself for,” said Parnell, who will still serve as defensive coordinator. “Now here it is in front of me.”
Dales said he stepped away to take care of personal and family issues that weren’t allowing him to fully commit his time and energy to football. He called his decision a “gut-wrencher.” It was a decision that shocked the Eastlake community and came two days into Dales’ eighth season at the school. Athletic director Pat Bangasser said he didn’t find out until 7:15 Monday morning.
Parnell and the Eastlake football team found out later that day.
“Some of our players have ball-boyed for Gene when he first started in his first couple years,” Parnell said. “There were some roots there. So we as a staff gave them some time to talk together as a team and then I came in and addressed them and told them there were two roads we could take. One way, everything is about me and my personal success. Or, the other way is, I’m going to rally and we’re going to be brothers and work through this adversity together.”
Eastlake is 0-2 and lost all 22 starters from a team that won 10 games last year. The Wolves will continue to rely on players like quarterbacks Grant Beahm and Richard “Blue” Thomas, running back Drew Lewis, linebacker/full back Carson Iraola and safeties/receivers D.J. Thornton and Cam Nelson.
“The objective for us doesn’t change,” Parnell said. “And that’s to be the best Eastlake. That’s been the goal since day one.”
He’s also used this as an opportunity to impart a lasting message with his players.
“This is going to happen for some of these kids down the road,” Parnell said. “They’re going to have something like this where there’s a hole that needs to be filled, whether it’s a job or whatever. To be able to go through this now, I’m excited for their growth.”