PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) — It’s the end of era for Alaska High School football as two of the state’s most successful coaches, Duncan Shackelford and Rod Christiansen, are set to retire from prep football after more than 50 years of coaching experience in Alaska between the two of them.
Longtime Palmer High School head coach Rod Christiansen is retiring after 28 illustrious seasons as the Moose's head coach.
Christiansen decided it was time after this year and is confident he's leaving the team in good hands. Taking the reins will be Tim Popowski, an assistant on Christiansen's coaching staff for the past 12 seasons.
"You always wonder when will it be your last season," Christiansen said with a chuckle. "But I felt it was time."
Christiansen leaves the Moose with the most wins in Alaska high school football history. He's got 158 career wins on his resume, six trips to the state title game and one state championship back in 1995.
When asked what he'll be doing during his free time now that he doesn't have to prep for football, Christiansen has a pretty good idea.
"I like to hunt and fish, so I'm looking forward to being able to do that," he said.
But Palmer fans shouldn't be surprised to see him still roaming the sidelines come game days next fall. Christiansen says it'll be hard to completely stay away. He is unsure of what exactly his role will be with the program but for now, he says he's excited to see the new generation of coaches lead Palmer forward.
Friday’s state championship game will be East assistant coach Duncan Shackelford’s last game on the sidelines after coaching high school football in Alaska for 35 years.
If Shackelford retiring sounds familiar, that’s because it is — he first retired in 2013 when he left Chugiak High School as head coach.
“Everybody said 'you weren’t going to coach anymore,'” Shackelford said of his return. “I said I wasn’t going to be a head coach anymore.”
Shackelford returned to football In 2014 as assistant coach at East High School alongside head coach Jeff Trotter, spending his first two seasons with the offensive line before moving to running backs coach after that.
“I have the easiest job in the state," Shackelford said. "‘I go 'Hey, run there really fast and gain yards.’ They do it and I look like a genius, so it’s great,'” Shackelford said.
But this time around, Shackelford says he's for real about retirement, and wants to spend time watching his son play college baseball.
“I’d really like to go see what it’s like when it’s October and 65 degrees outside,” Shackelford said.
For the past four seasons, the Thunderbirds football program has seen plenty of success, winning three conference titles and a state championship.
Shackelford is no stranger to success himself with three state championships to his name, and is the last head coach to win back-to-back large schools state championship in 2000 and 2001 with Dimond High School.
His achievements as a coach are countless, but it's the relationship with his players that he said he’ll remember most.
“When those guys I’ve had over the years come back and see me, we go out to dinner,” Shackelford said. “They say, ’hey coach how’s it going’ that means more to me than anything.”