It took just three years of coaching high school football at Santiam High School in Mill City, Oregon for Dustin McGee to fall in love with the Pacific Northwest. And after leaving Oregon in 2018 to coach in Tennessee the past four years, he’s made his way back.
McGee, an Arkansas native, was hired as Centralia High School’s football coach as announced by the school district during a meet-and-greet event on Wednesday.
“Just had a longing to get back to the Northwest,” McGee said. “We set out to find a great opportunity and that’s where Centralia came in. Luckily, we found a great one.”
McGee takes over for former coach Jeremy Thibault, who announced his resignation in November following a 1-8 campaign during the 2021-22 season. And McGee will have some rebuilding to do.
The Tigers, who have gone 12-25 the past five years, have struggled to keep up with the likes of perennial powerhouses Tumwater and crosstown rival W.F. West. The Bearcats notched their 13th-straight Swamp Cup, rivalry victory over the Tigers in October.
There are many factors to why the Tigers have struggled over the years, but the most recent hit was a double levy failure in August that prompted some athletes to switch to another school district in fear of sports funding being canceled. The levy finally passed in May during its third attempt, but the damage to Tiger athletics was already done.
But Centralia is hopeful to turn things around with the hiring of McGee, who has churned out success at every coaching stop he’s made over the years.
At Santiam, in his first football head-coaching job, McGee engineered an impressive turnaround, taking over a team that went 2-7 in 2014 (the year before he arrived) and turning them into a Class 2A state runner-up in just three years. His teams went 4-5, 7-4 and 11-2 before he was hired at Ezell-Harding Christian School in 2018.
At Ezell-Harding, a private christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, McGee found even more success, transforming the Eagles from a whipping post to a national contender in the 8-man ranks.
He took over an Eagles’ team that had gone 2-8 the season before he arrived, then went 3-8 in the first year of the rebuild before catapulting to an 11-2 record and a state championship victory in just his second season.
The Eagles would go on to notch a win in the 8-man National High School Tournament before losing to Evangel Christian (Alabama) in the national championship game in Panama City, Florida.
The Eagles advanced to the state playoffs the following year in 2020-21, before having a down year this past season with a 2-7 overall record.
Now, McGee is hoping his formula for success can translate to the Class 2A level in Washington state.
He’s already met and shook hands with most of the returning football players on Tuesday, after he flew to Washington from Tennessee for the coaching announcement.
It’s still early in the whole process, but McGee said he plans to run a 4-2-5 base defense, and a multiple, shotgun, Wing-T style offense.
“It’s not necessarily what I’ve run here in Tennessee, but it’s the same type of principles,” McGee said.
Now, he and his family plan to finish the school year out in Tennessee then move to Centralia sometime in June and prepare for summer football workouts. He’s still figuring out all the WIAA requirements, which are different from Tennessee’s.
For now, he’s just grateful for the new opportunity presented to his family, and for the chance to make a mark on Centralia’s football program.
“The excitement is awesome," McGee said. "The support (from school officials) has been pretty amazing. The opportunity to get on campus and be a part of the kids’ lives every day is a big deal for me.
"You can tell from the moment you walk in that people are excited and looking forward to doing something special with the football program. It’s a great opportunity for me to serve and make a positive impact on the community.”