NEWPORT — The regular Friday morning meeting of the Newport Boosters Club was rocked last week when Newport High School’s head football coach, Rod Losier, announced his resignation only three weeks into the season.
Amid gasps and laments of disbelief, Losier surprised a group of three dozen Cubs supporters gathered Sept. 20 at the Newport Elks Lodge with his decision to quit the night before, rather than be fired after a player suffered an injury during a road game against Phoenix High School the previous week.
Losier, who coached football in the Lincoln County School District for 32 years with assignments at Taft, Waldport and Newport high schools, acknowledged he breached protocols for handling concussions following the Sept. 13 game.
“The thing is, I feel bad, stupid really, just for the lack of attention to the details regarding a potential concussion,” Losier told the News-Times. “I’m extremely sorry to the player and the family that I did not do enough. I feel like I let the whole team down, and it bothers me because I feel like caring for kids is one of my strengths. But my lack of action didn’t reflect that.”
The injured player was sidelined for the rest of the game — a step known as “When in doubt, take him out” — after suffering a hit to the head and complaining of a tingling sensation in an arm. Coaches monitored the player after the game and at a rest stop on the 3.5-hour bus trip home.
Contrary to policies established during a pre-season safety meeting with district coaches, Losier said he failed to notify the game administrator of the injury at the time of the incident, neglected to call the parents and allowed the student to drive home after the team’s arrival in Newport at 3:45 a.m.
The following Monday, Sept. 16, the player visited a doctor who confirmed he had suffered a concussion. Because the player suffered a concussion in 2018, he may be unable to continue playing football.
Searching for an explanation, Losier cited “tunnel vision” and an avalanche of details and duties that distracted his attention. Remorseful though he was, Losier said he felt “initially shocked” by the “severe consequence” he faced from school superintendent Karen Gray in a Sept. 19 meeting.
“Our superintendent came from a situation in a prior school district that had a lawsuit,” recalled Losier. “In order to protect the district and the kids, she said she had to have a strict policy on that to fire me, and I didn’t want to put that on our principal, Reyna Mattson.”
Gray was to the point when asked about the matter.
“Head Football Coach Losier resigned because he did not follow legally required processes of the school district,” Gray told the News-Times on Monday. “This called for action by the school district. Student safety is one of our top priorities, and we will do whatever we have to do to keep our students safe. There exists state law, district policy and protocol on concussions, and it is imperative that we followed it to the letter. It is required to keep our students safe. The assistant coaches will coach the team for the rest of the season. LCSD will create a process for hiring the next NHS football coach. It is possible that this search will be statewide.”
According to InvestigateWest, an advocacy website that covers disability issues, Gray is one of five defendants, including a head coach and other Parkrose High School athletic officials, in a $1.7 million concussion lawsuit filed March 18 in Multnomah County Circuit Court. Gray was the superintendent at Parkrose before coming to LCSD in July of last year.
According to sports medicine experts, concussions are the most common high school football injury, with a rate of about two per 1,000 games. Considered a mild traumatic brain injury, new research suggests high school football concussions are especially hazardous to young frontal lobes that are still developing. Losier recalled seeing about eight concussions during his long coaching career at LCSD.
“The kids are upset, and they feel bad,” reflected Losier, a talented tackle in his own right who played on two national championship teams at Linfield College before signing a two-year deal with the Oregon Thunderbolts, a semi-pro team. “But it’s also a lesson, you know. You have to own your mistakes, move on and be productive, because you’re always going to have some adversity in athletics or life.”
Losier is widely respected in the community, according to Mark Collson, a former Newport mayor. A couple of petitions “freely signed by lots of people” are circulating in support of Losier, he said.
“For those of us who know Rod Losier and his long history of positive attitude towards students and athletes, it is hard to believe this first mistake required his removal as head football coach,” remarked Collson, a retired insurance agent who asserted a lighter penalty would have been fair. “It appears to many of us that because of a past experience, the superintendent may be merely protecting herself more than anyone else. Hopefully this decision can be reconsidered.”
Losier, who remains on staff as a teacher, is the second head football coach this year to forfeit his job for contravening school district procedures. In April, Toledo coach Steve Cragun was dismissed from coaching duties after he posted player grades on a private team chat room.