September 24, 2020
“One of the plays he drew up, I’d already stolen from him.”
“In ’03 when we lost to Brewster at state in double overtime, that could’ve been us.”
“I would never coach a kid like me, I’d throw him out of the gym.”
“I would always say I refused to lower my standards to meet today’s acceptance of mediocrity.”
Eighteen years, 397 wins-108 losses, 16 state appearances and eight 1A/2B state championships; Corey Baerlocher is no more as Colfax High School girls basketball coach.
Baerlocher, 48, has resigned, made official by the school board last Monday, after the coach signed a letter of resignation to the district office.
“Just a lot of change, 18 years I’ve been here, three superintendents, 13 principals and six athletic directors,” said Baerlocher. “The only thing that hasn’t changed is my commitment and passion for Colfax girls basketball.”
He coached hundreds of players – for Colfax as well as Northwest Express, his off-season tournament teams program – nearing a second generation for some.
“I’m sad to see him go. I don’t think Colfax basketball will ever be the same without him there,” said Carmen Gfeller, a redshirt sophomore on the University of Montana women’s team, who played for the 2018 Colfax state title winners, her senior year.
Coaches lost a rival.
“I would have assumed you would have to drag him off the floor kicking and screaming,” said Chris Colvin, third-year Liberty coach, whose Lancers team won the 2020 state 2B title. “Whenever you play Colfax, you know they’re going to be well-coached, organized, have a plan, and he’s the captain of the ship, making sure they execute the game plan the way they are supposed to.”
From Cottonwood, Idaho, the son of a J.V. boys high school basketball coach, Baerlocher was hired in Colfax in 2002, to follow one-year coach Ross Thomas, whose team won the state championship that winter.
Then Colfax took fourth in 2003 and won state again in 2004.
“A lot of people in ’04 said, you won the state title, are you gonna leave, you don’t have anybody coming back. No, that’s when you really find out if you can coach,” Baerlocher said. “I never want to leave the cupboard bare. I was even accused of trying to squeeze blood from a turnip. Setting my expectations too high. I never thought that was a bad thing.”
His basketball interest started early.
“I grew up in a gym,” Baerlocher said. “The biggest punishment I could get was my dad saying you can’t go to practice with me tonight. My dad was as mellow as I was intense.”
Baerlocher’s final Bulldogs team was upset at Spokane Arena in March, in the first round at state.
“In Colfax, it’s more of a what have you done for me lately?” he said. “If we’d have beat Toledo, we’d have had a guaranteed two more games, I think about that, it could’ve been 400 (wins). I’d done this for 18 years, I’ve missed anniversaries, birthdays, I wanted 400 for me.”
He has heard from many players since the news of his resignation.
“I’ve sold my soul to this game... the outpouring... it resonates,” he said.
He decided to resign the weekend of Aug. 28 and turned in the letter Aug. 31.
“It was a huge surprise to me,” said said Joel Warwick, assistant from 2014-18, and younger kids coach before. “I loved every minute of coaching with Corey. I’ve never seen a coach more driven toward a sport than Corey Baerlocher. Growing up in the sporting goods business, team sports business, same for my father, he’s said the same.”
When did Baerlocher first think about resigning?
“I don’t think I ever thought about it, I think it was a long discussion,” he said.
Did the administration know this was coming?
“I would have to guess, yes,” Baerlocher said. “I’m just giving up my sideline. I get to be a parent, to sit up there and coach.”
His daughter Hannah, a current player, is a junior this year. Baerlocher’s son Cole graduated in June and oldest son Chase is a junior at WSU.
Was this decision possible in March, at the end of last season?
“Yeah, I guess so,” Baerlocher said.
He has taught at Steptoe school – sixth through eighth graders – for 16 years and will continue.
Baerlocher began here as a long-term teacher substitute, in his first year in Colfax, while making $3,500 to coach the girls basketball team, following an application to coach at Lewiston which drew no response. Then he applied for an opening in Colfax and Tony Carter called and left a message on Baerlocher’s answering machine.
“I bet I played that message 10 times,” said the applicant. “Jumping up and down every time.”
Then Baerlocher went and interviewed and was later informed he was a finalist.
“Same thing, I kept playing the message, jumping up and down,” he said.
Now, 18 years later, he has a group of kids, freshmen through seniors, going to a tournament this weekend in Moscow, part of his Northwest Express program for grades 7-12.
“I have a feeling numbers might grow as the opportunities come back (from virus restrictions),” he said.
He will continue what he has done on the side, in the offseasons, taking teams to spring AAU tournaments, to NCAA-sanctioned tournaments in July in Sacramento, Anaheim, San Diego.
Most were canceled in 2020.
Did this year, or the virus, have something to do with his resignation?
“It’s part of the new norm. The stars are aligned, or maybe they’re not aligned, I don’t know,” Baerlocher said.
A Northwest Express team played in a tournament in July in Moscow, then got plane tickets refunded from a canceled trip to Phoenix. He has three teams committed to go to a tournament in Boise in October.
The coach has gone to California tournaments with Northwest Express since 2010, taking two teams or more. He bought a 1995 Chevy van, a “creeper van” as the kids called it, and a 2001 Dodge 15-passenger and put a luggage carrier on top.
But he has resigned from Colfax High School.
Will he continue as is with Northwest Express?
“Oh definitely. Definitely,” Baerlocher said.
Colfax will look for a new coach.
“In the end, I got to decide what’s not just best for me, but best for the program,” Baerlocher said. “I’m hoping they can get (a state title) next year, I hope they get a season next year.”
His decision was made.
“There’s some sleepless nights, going, wow,” he said.
He talks about more family time now.
“Cole, I know nothing about FFA. He played basketball because he thought that’s what I expected. Gettin’ to be a dad isn’t so bad,” Baerlocher said. “I think bigger and better might’ve been sitting at my house for 23 years.”
Was this a family decision?
“I don’t think so,” he said. “This is not worth it, right now. A lot of stuff, I know I let a lot of people down. But kids are resilient, they’re gonna bounce. I’m not going anywhere, I’m gonna be your biggest cheerleader.”
Did anything change about the job?
“The X’s and O’s are the same, the coaching aspect didn’t change. Anytime any of the pieces change, it changes the dynamic,” he said.
On Feb. 17 of this year, Baerlocher’s mother died after a 10-year battle with cancer.
“I confided a lot in my mother. This year I didn’t do that. I’m carrying my own cross now. I’m not sharing any of my woes, and I didn’t. In April, I made two quilts, I’ve never done that in my life. I talked to Charli Hochsprung, she gave me pointers. It was a lot of time to reflect. My wife is sick of me buying fabric... Growing up my mother would say, ‘whatever you do is a reflection of you.’ That has driven me crazy at times. But it’s a drive for me.”
A fellow coach once told him something.
“You’re dumb enough to think every other team is working as hard as you,” he said.
Has Baerlocher changed as a coach over the 18 years?
“I’ve mellowed. A ton,” he said. “It’s different, everything, look at how our society is now, turn on the news... In 18 years, there’s been a lot of change, but my passion and commitment for Colfax girls basketball has not changed... I tell my wife I love you, just because it’s loud doesn’t mean any less.”
Gfeller was a three-year starter for Baerlocher, also playing for him in junior high.
“Every year there was some sort of drama, but it didn’t seem to turn into anything,” Gfeller said, who has known the coach since she was a kindergartner at Steptoe.
“I know my basketball IQ was developed tremendously because of my years playing for him. I remember the first day of basketball, in seventh grade, we were all so nervous; oh my gosh, we’re finally starting to play for Corey Baerlocher.”
Did the players all like playing for him?
“I think it was a mix, and you’re going to have that. Players who wanted to be pushed, thrived under him,” she said. “I think Corey did a really good job preparing me for college, my mental toughness, more than any other coach could. He was never satisfied, he praised effort rather than results. He had a really good way of bringing a team together.”
Was there an issue with parents?
“It seemed like there was something every year,” she said. “He would say, ‘your parents aren’t here every day seeing what we do.’”
“Kids that were held accountable by their families had success in Corey’s program,” said Warwick.
So he has mellowed?
“I believe that completely, I’ve heard stories from alumni,” Gfeller said. “I know that I’m competitive and great players want to be coached, but even with his mellowed version there were times I would go home so mad. The way it was before, I don’t know, those teams put up with more but they won three, four state championships in a row. My team won one.”
“I’m just sorry to see him go out like this, I’m sorry for the younger generation to not get to experience him as a coach. He has a way of explaining things for each player.”
A Colfax administrator sat on the bench at state in the game vs. Toledo.
“Maybe he just wanted a better seat, that’s all I’m gonna say,” said Baerlocher.
Did the administration have something to do with his decision?
“Hey, just stay the course, you gotta trust that things will work out the way they should,” said Baerlocher. “This is about the kids, it’s been a great run in Colfax.”
What if the same questions were asked of Superintendent Jerry Pugh, who handles inquiries regarding the school administration, with a district policy of not commenting on personnel.
“I’m not going to talk about personnel,” Pugh said. “Absolutely, I wish Corey the very best.”