Kirklanders remember legendary coach Chuck Tarbox at JHS memorial

A memorial was held at the Juanita High School Field House Monday for former head football coach Chuck Tarbox. Friends, family and associates spoke about the coach and his impact on their lives. - Layout by Matt Phelps, photos by Tj Marinell, Kirkland Reporter
A memorial was held at the Juanita High School Field House Monday for former head football coach Chuck Tarbox. Friends, family and associates spoke about the coach and his impact on their lives.
— image credit: Layout by Matt Phelps, photos by Tj Marinell, Kirkland Reporter

As a young man, Chuck Tarbox seemed to predict his own future as a legendary high school football coach.

While a student at Queen Anne High School, he wrote an essay for language arts class titled “Coaching Football at a High School Level.”

In the essay, he wrote on the importance of a good coach in order to have a successful team. As Tarbox saw it, it was the coach’s responsibility to produce finer, better young men as the result of being around their coach. Tarbox was to “win without boasting and lose without bitterness.” A good coach was determined not by the games he won, but by the respect he earned.

Former coaches, players, coworkers, and friends conveyed the image of a man who succeeded in living up to those standards at a memorial service at Juanita High School, where years before he helped the Rebels break a 47-game losing streak and later lead them on to win back-to-back league championship titles in 1984 and 1985.

Tarbox, who died on July 3 at the age of 77, was known by a variety of nicknames that included “The Box” and “Prima Donna No. 2.” A University of Washington graduate, he coached at five separate schools in the Seattle area from 1961-1999, including Cleveland High School in Seattle (1966-67), Nathan Hale (1968-79) and Eastside Catholic (1992-99), making his coaching tenure one of the longest in the state’s history. He was eventually inducted into the Washington High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 1991.

He was also described as a colorful man of blunt honesty and poignant sensitivity; blunt enough to tell parents their son wasn’t being played because he was “gutless and that’s hereditary!” yet sensitive enough to encourage players after making a game-losing mistake.

Rico Tipton, a former coach with Tarbox, recalled his ability to speak to the athletes in a manner that inspired them, even at times of disappointment and defeat.

“He had that unique way of making you feel special,” he said. “Young men, he made them feel that way.”

What made Tarbox special, Tipton said, was that he was at his best when the team lost.

After losing a game against Ingram High School at the last minute, Tipton said the team was devastated by the loss and even Tarbox was uncertain of what to say to them. When they got back to the locker room at their high school, however, Tarbox had somehow found the right words to lift their spirits up.

“I can’t remember what he said, but what’s important, what he had to say to the kids, was exactly what those kids needed to hear,” Tipton said. “He would not let them leave that locker room feeling sorry for themselves.”

Former rival Jay Boitano, who moderated the service, also described his respect for Tarbox. Coaching the Issaquah High School football team in the 1980s, Boitano said his dislike for “The Box” during their years as rivals turned into reverence once he joined Tarbox’s coaching staff.

“He’s one of a kind,” Boitano said. “Chuck was a legend.”

Another attribute of Tarbox was his ability to remember everyone, according to friend Gary Seefried. Seefried added that Tarbox had no problem speaking his mind.

“He was a remarkable guy,” he said. “You loved where he came from.”

Bill Marsh, who took over for Tarbox after he left Eastside Catholic, credited Tarbox with taking the time out of his schedule to help Marsh obtain a teaching position. Though Tarbox had a soft side, Marsh said he could also be unapologetically resolute, especially when he turned out to be right. During a particularly rainy game against Aberdeen High School, Tarbox arranged to have his Eastside Catholic team kickoff twice after winning the coin toss, much to the chagrin of parents. At the start of the second half Tarbox was informed by coaches that parents were upset with him, to which he replied “they’re pissed off at themselves for not coming up with such a great plan.”

The Crusaders eventually won the game, 10-0, according to Marsh.

Tarbox’s daughter Dona Kidwell, before reading his high school essay, spoke of her father’s favorite quips, which included “excuses don’t win ball games” and “I only made a mistake once. That’s when I thought I had made a mistake.”

As one former coworker put it, Tarbox also took a direct role in ensuring the academic success of his players. He arranged for study sessions with math teachers and was always discussing their classwork.

Though he retired to Arizona, his son Mike Tarbox said he still looked for opportunities to coach, even when the team existed only in a video game. Mike Tarbox said while he was playing the video game NCAA Football, his father started scouting the other team’s plays. Finally, Mike let him coach while he played.

“We played three games a day for a week,” he said. “My dad coached the Huskies to the national championship.”

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