Steve Coury, a Catholic and longtime coach of Lake Oswego High School football, speaks with his team at Hillsboro Stadium in 2018 after they had won the 6A state championship. “I consider them family,” Coury said of the players. “We make sure they are treated that way.” (Courtesy Lake Oswego High School)
Steve Coury, a Catholic and longtime coach of Lake Oswego High School football, speaks with his team at Hillsboro Stadium in 2018 after they had won the 6A state championship. “I consider them family,” Coury said of the players. “We make sure they are treated that way.” (Courtesy Lake Oswego High School)

The head coach of Lake Oswego High School football is a devout Catholic who regularly attends Mass at Jesuit High, his team’s archrival.

Steve Coury, a member of St. John Fisher Parish in Southwest Portland, pals around with Jesuit coach Ken Potter and with Msgr. Tim Murphy, president emeritus of Central Catholic High School, another 6A football powerhouse.

“I love their schools and what they do for kids,” said Coury. “Plus I need their prayers when I play against them.”

Coury, 63, has led the Lakers for 28 years, racking up a 236-82 record and two state titles, including in 2018. He usually works his team deep into the bracket along with Jesuit and Central Catholic. In 2019, Lake Oswego defeated Jesuit in a semifinal squeaker but lost to Central Catholic in the title game.

Like any coach, Coury tries to win. But he credits Catholic values for helping him place human dignity above victories.

Oregon had no high school football in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Even so Coury held socially distanced workouts for his team, as much for their emotional health as to keep their bodies fit.

“I worry about the kids who are doing everything online and missing social interaction,” Coury said. “I consider them family. We make sure they are treated that way. For kids nowadays, it’s so tough growing up.”

Coury, born in Southern California to a father who coached college and professional football, attended Lakeridge High in Lake Oswego and then Oregon State in the late 1970s. He was a celebrated All-American wide receiver who set records for the Beavers and then played briefly in the Canadian Football League.

But coaching would be Coury’s life work and passion. He refers to the career as a gift from God. He started at Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino, California, then moved on to coach receivers for the Portland Breakers of the U.S. Football League in the 1980s. He later served as an assistant at the University of Pittsburgh, one of the nation’s great college programs, before taking the job at Lake Oswego in 1992. Coury wanted to raise his family in Oregon, opting for stability over the frequent moves that marked his childhood. He and his wife of 40 years, Nancy, have three children, all of whom had their father as a youth sports coach. The couple have three grandchildren.

“Faith has taught me so much about caring for other people,” Coury said. “We try to live that way.” In a public school, he cannot discuss faith openly. But he makes no secret of his Catholicism and realizes that his actions are a kind of evangelization. He is seen as a man who respects others and who gives clear, wise counsel.

“In his time here at LO he has helped create a true Laker family, positively influencing the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of students and their families,” said Chris Coleman, athletic director and assistant principal at Lake Oswego High. “He serves not just as a coach, but as a leader and a mentor.”

Coury works with many students from privileged backgrounds. He reminds them they are blessed and have a responsibility to serve. A fan of Catholic high school service requirements, Coury organizes projects for his players, too.

But pain comes into all lives and he has tried to help students through health crises, family deaths and divorce.

Coury, who has hired assistant coaches who once played for him, wants to keep coaching as long as he can relate to players and have a positive influence on them.  

The greatest moments for Coury are when players from the past get in touch to express gratitude. “You can have state titles and a lot of wins — great,” said Coury. “But it’s when the guys write letters that you remember.”

Coury has a day job, too. He is vice president of SporTech, which distributes artificial turf. Among his clients: Jesuit High School.

“Being Catholic puts things in perspective for a coach,” said Potter, a legend in his own right at Jesuit. “Wins are nice, but that’s nothing compared to having kids build character and fight through adversity and learn to love one another and know there are more important things than football.”

Potter respects Coury’s coaching, especially how he treats players.

“Would I want my kid to play for him? In a heartbeat,” Potter said. “I know my kid would get challenged but in a good way.”

Msgr. Murphy has a vivid memory from midfield after Central Catholic defeated Lake Oswego a year ago in the 6A championship game. There was Coury, the renowned coach whom teams feared to play, speaking tenderly with a reporter, praising the Rams for their play and their program. Then Coury found Msgr. Murphy and spoke with him for five minutes.

“He didn’t need to do any of that,” Msgr. Murphy said. “That just shows the beauty of the person.”  

edl@catholicsentinel.org