Jerry Fleming will leave lasting legacy in Florence

Jerry Fleming will retire this year after 16 years as the Siuslaw football team's line coach. (Photo courtesy Jeff Gray)

Viking line coach hangs up whistle after 16 years - Part One

June 13, 2022 — On Sept. 2, when the 2022 Vikings kick off their season against Newport, there will be a few changes from last year — Siuslaw will play in a new league (Mountain Valley) and one of the greatest senior classes in the Viking football programs history will have moved on.

Another change from previous years is that, as the defending state champs and winners of 13 straight games over two seasons, Siuslaw will come into the season with a target on their chest. Each of the Vikings’ opponents next year will circle the Siuslaw game on their schedule as it will be their chance to take down the champs.

Also missing next year will be both the “Civil War Bandage” and the “Chicken Six.” What are these things? Sadly, for the Siuslaw football team and the entire Viking Nation, the one person who would know is retiring.

Jerry Fleming, Siuslaw High assistant football coach, is hanging up his whistle after 16 years coaching the offensive and defensive lines for the Vikings.

Fleming is known for many things, dedication, compassion and intensity to name a few, but there is one thing about him that is singular to this lifetime Viking.

As is true for almost all team sports, deception and trickery are key to keeping the other team guessing. Any time spent by Siuslaw’s opponents trying to decipher the Viking play calls was time wasted as, during Fleming’s tenure with the Viks, it was impossible to know if he was yelling legitimate instructions or simple nonsense to throw off the other team.

“I’m going to miss him yelling random stuff than means absolutely nothing”, said fellow Viking assistant coach Jeff Gray.

Fleming was known to shout things like “British Dental Plan” from the sideline or ask his players to “Stop The Ringing!”

It wasn’t long before his own players realized he was speaking nonsense. As for their opponents? It’s possible they’re still confused.

This served both purposes of “strategic deception” and as a morale boost for Fleming’s players, as not much builds comradery faster than an inside joke that your opponent is both confused by and oblivious to.

“During track season, I started to realize this is something other schools know us for when all the sudden they’re randomly yelling ‘Launcher!’ at us for no logical reason,” remembered Siuslaw senior back Camp Lacouture. “No one knows what ‘Launcher’ is.”

When Fleming retires from coaching this year, he will leave the Siuslaw football program as an integral coach of two state championship teams — and not just because of his one-of-a-kind phantom calls. He will also be remembered as a great strategist and motivator of men.

Fleming is not only a one of a kind coach, but also a Florence original and, besides some stints coaching at other high schools around Oregon, has been a Viking his whole life.

Fleming played center and defensive end for Siuslaw in the late 1980s and found out how special the community he grew up in was.

“The reason I went on to coach is because of the male role models I had in my life growing up in Florence,” he remembered. “My dad left us in the eighth grade, about the same time my grandma died of cancer.”

Going into high school and his freshman football season, Fleming had lost focus and was having trouble finding direction in life, for obvious reasons. That’s when the community around Siuslaw High and its athletic programs stepped up.

“Dick Whitmore was my principal, and he had my folks as students,” recalled Fleming. “He pulled me aside on the first day of high school and said ‘Hey, I'm here for you, whatever you need. I've got you. If you have any problems, you let me know, but we're here for you.’ That’s where the support kind of started and it continued from there.”

Fleming listed the coaches that were his role models and that influenced him to be the man and coach he is today: Len Lutero, Steve Galbraith, Lloyd Little, Jerry Affinito, Pat Zahner, Ty Perry and Dick Hoberg, just to name a few.

Fleming found the guidance he needed and also some success on the gridiron as his Viking teams made the state playoffs both his junior and senior year. Fleming was also named second team all-state as a center and honorable mention at defensive end.

He would go on to play football at Southern Oregon in Ashland. There he got most of his credits for his bachelor’s degree in English and then came home to finish at Lane Community College.

Fleming was working as teacher’s aide in Florence and assistant coach on the junior varsity football team when he saw a girl he would later learned was named Mary at Coastal Fitness. He asked the fitness center’s owner, Jim Mitchell, to set the two up. He did.

Mary got a preview of their potential future together on their first date.

“Our first date was a scouting trip to a Myrtle Point football game,” remembered Fleming.

After a short return to Florence, Fleming decided to go into law enforcement. Lucky for him his now wife Mary was a nurse and could work almost anywhere as the couple lived in Alaska and around Oregon as they tried to find the right place to start a family.

Eventually, Fleming decided he’d had enough of being a police officer and decided to follow the path of so many men that mentored him during his youth; he went back to school to get his master’s degree so he could become a teacher and coach.

After previously student teaching at different grade levels Fleming eventually ended up in a second grade class and immediately knew that was where he was supposed to be. After teaching at a couple other schools around Oregon, the Flemings returned to Florence, where Jerry is still a second grade teacher at Siuslaw Elementary.

2006 was the year the Flemings came back to the coast, and it was also the year Jerry joined Tim Dodson’s Siuslaw Viking coaching staff as an offensive and defensive line coach.

2006 was also a very important year in Viking history.

To be continued in the next edition of the Siuslaw News.