June 20, 2022 — Editor’s note: This story is a continuation of “Fleming Leaves Lasting Legacy” from the June 15 edition of the Siuslaw News.
Jerry Fleming knew he was in the right place from the minute he and his wife Mary returned to Florence.
“My niece and nephew were playing down the street at their dad's, just down the road, a couple houses from where [their new house was],” he said. “I'm like, O.K., this is where we need to be.”
In fall 2006, Fleming was hired as a second grade teacher in Florence and to coach the offensive and defensive line for the Vikings.
His teams were successful from the start.
The first year he joined the SHS staff, led by Tim Dodson, the Viks went undefeated, 13-0. Siuslaw beat Sisters 21-14 in overtime to give Fleming his first state championship and Siuslaw’s first since 1981.
According to Dodson, his new line coach contributed immediately upon arrival.
“Jerry had a huge impact on the 2006 team,” he recalled. “We had struggled a little bit up front, technique-wise, before we got him on board. Jerry was a very good teacher.”
From the beginning, Fleming’s ability to teach the option offense was one of his most valuable assets. Though Siuslaw went away from it for a few years, the option returned for good when Sam Johnson took over as head coach going into the 2019 season.
The Viking version of the option, called the “veer,” can be unstoppable when ran correctly. Maybe most important to its execution is the play of Fleming’s charges, the offensive line.
Fleming was a student of the option offense even before he started coaching.
“I’ve always loved the option,” said Fleming. “It’s a ballet. It’s like a painting or a work of art. I just I love it. I always have.”
Coach Fleming also took skills he learned in his previous career as a police officer and passed those on to his linemen.
“Something that I picked up in law enforcement was the importance of muscle memory,” he recalled. “I’ve always felt, on the line, skills like muscle memory or repeatability are important and I was able to bring those from my previous work.”
If you asked Fleming’s colleagues, his fellow Viking coaches, the list of what Fleming contributed to the team in his time as a Viking is long, but one thing almost all mentioned was his intensity.
“No matter if it was Monday walk throughs or one of the three title games we coached together, his knob was on 13,” said Jeff Gray, also a Viking assistant football coach. “That intensity naturally bled off into the kids.”
Fleming’s often audible intensity was on display for all at every Siuslaw football practice since 2006.
“I’m going to miss hearing the ‘yooohoooos’ [sic] all practice long,” said Siuslaw assistant football coach Sean Campbell.
The energy was contagious, infecting everyone who coached with or played for Fleming.
John Rose, SHS assistant football coach, said, “He’s really animated, and I think the kids responded to it quite well.”
Last fall, in the last game of the regular season, undefeated Siuslaw found themselves down 40-14 to Junction City on the road. The Vikings’ hopes for an undefeated season and district title appeared lost. There was, at least, one man who believed Siuslaw still had a shot: assistant coach Jerry Fleming.
“During the Junction City game, Coach Fleming never got down,” remembered last year’s Viking quarterback Beau Erickson. “He was over there running up and down the sidelines making sure we didn’t give up.”
They did not give up.
Siuslaw came back to win the game 41-40 to win the Special District 2 North Division title and eventually the 3A state title.
Viking head football coach Sam Johnson is one who has a unique perspective on Fleming as he both played for and coached with Fleming.
“He was a guy I always looked up to when I played for him,” remembered Johnson. “He is a man of God and made sure, as a player, that you always knew he loved you and cared about you. Getting to coach by his side is one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. He taught me it wasn’t about football; it was always about the young men that came through our program.”
Fleming’s character is what everyone mentions when asked about the man. That is probably because it was obvious to everyone that he deeply cares about each and every kid he coaches or has as a student.
“He truly cared about each and every kid out there regardless of status, attitude or motivation level,” said Gray. “He is a special dude. I’m going to miss him.”
The culture Fleming helped to create during his 16 years on the Viking staff earned the team three trips to the state title game and two championships, and will pay dividends for the program for years to come.
“He exemplifies the Siuslaw football heritage and culture that we try and instill in these young men,” said Campbell. “Buying into the brotherhood is Siuslaw football.”
“Buy in” the students did, especially during this final season roaming the side lines of Hans Petersen Memorial Field.
Fleming and the seniors on the 2021 team had overcome a lot of adversity throughout their high school football careers, including failing to win a single game their freshman year and a new head coach before their sophomore season. One of those seniors was Fleming’s son Rhys, who played tight end and defensive end for the Viks.
Finally, all the hard work would pay off.
After going winless just three years earlier, the 2021 Vikings gave Fleming quite a sendoff in his final season.
Fleming and the Vikings earned a spot in the 3A Championship in Cottage Grove against the South Umpqua Lancers. The coach knew just what the team needed to get right mentally and appeared just as excited as any of the student athletes.
“The last game against South Umpqua, I remember during pregame warmups, he was circling the boys while they stretched,” said Rose. “He was patting them on the back and giving them some pregame advice. He was pretty pumped up. I think he would have put on a helmet and uniform himself that day if they would have let him.”
The Vikings beat the Lancers 14-9, giving Fleming a state title in his final season.
“Probably the most special thing to see that day was how he hugged his son Rhys after we won,” said Rose. “To be able to share that moment with your boy is super special.”
Besides Rhys, who graduated this month, Jerry and Mary have a daughter that will be in seventh grade next year and another daughter who is a junior at Oregon State University.
Lucky for Florence, Fleming will continue teaching second grade for a few more years. Though he won’t be coaching football, it’s safe to assume he will continue to help make good “teammates” out of his students, just like he did with his players for the last 16 years.
“As a teacher and a coach, I always try and teach out 20 years,” said Fleming. “With the kids that I’ve had for football, I hope they grow up to be great dads and family men. Life is a team sport, and you hope they make positive contributions to their family ‘team’ and their work ‘teams’ for the rest of their lives.”