Chuck Tarbox, legendary football coach, dies at age 77

by: Casey McNerthney, KIRO 7 STAFF Updated:

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The numbers from Chuck Tarbox’s career are what jump off the page.

In his first year as Juanita’s football coach, he snapped a 47-game losing streak. The next year, his team won the division championship. In 1984 and ‘85, the Rebels won back-to-back state titles. By the time his nearly four-decade career was finished, he was among a select group of Washington State football coaches with more than 200 wins.

But it’s the words he delivered at the end of every pregame locker room speech that still resonate: “Have fun, damn it!”

“Every time I stood by him on the field he just gave me the confidence that we would win no matter the situation,” former player Bob Waskom wrote on Tarbox’s memorial page. “He believed in us as kids and turned us into men.”

Tarbox died July 3 in Surprise, Arizona, at age 77. He moved there after his last coaching job, trading the Northwest rain for a home on the 14th green of the Sun City Grand golf course.

His players were never far away, though.

In Tarbox’s garage, the walls were covered with pictures and articles that spanned his coaching career: Cleveland High School in Seattle in 1966-67; Nathan Hale from 1968-79; Juanita from 1980-90 and Eastside Catholic from 1992-99.

His Hale teams dominated the Metro League, and at Juanita he won nine division championships in the 1980s. In his eight seasons at Eastside Catholic, his teams earned six state playoff berths.

In the middle of the pictures and articles, there was a space dedicated to players who had died, including those lost after they had graduated.

One was Eric Koss, an all-state player who was killed in 2002 in an accident on Price Williams Sound. When Tarbox got the news in Arizona, he set down his clubs and got on a plane to come home.

“He never stopped caring for his players and students,” wrote player Andrew Shelton, who visited Tarbox in 2009.

Knowing that it was probably the last time he would see Tarbox, who had suffered from health issues, Shelton told Tarbox everything he’d been able to achieve in life was directly influenced by what Tarbox had taught him in high school.

“I said, ‘Thank you, Coach,’” Shelton wrote on the memorial page. “His response was, ‘No, thank you.’”

Tarbox, who was a Queen Anne High and University of Washington graduate, had offers to join the coaching staff at his alma mater, daughter Mona Kidwell said. He also had offers to join professional coaching staffs.

“But he really, really liked where he was at,” his daughter said. “He had the opportunity to shape lives, and that’s what he really enjoyed.”

His players who now have families of their own have asked about a memorial service, but one has not yet been set.

When some of those won Juanita’s first state title in 1984, the team was given a standing ovation at a post-championship pep assembly. But the biggest cheers came for Tarbox, who unzipped his jacket to reveal a royal blue and white No. 1 jersey.

The cheers were just as loud at the following year’s victory assembly, where Tarbox got his own standing ovation before addressing the packed gymnasium.

“We are a proud football team, guys,” he said that day. “We believe in ourselves. We have faith in each other.

“And we had some fun, didn’t we?”

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