Prep football: John Gradwohl leaves a daunting legacy, earned over nearly three decades on the EWHS sideline

Warriors coach John Gradwohl peers in from the sideline just before Cappasio Cherry plunged in for a 4th quarter touchdown
Edmonds-Woodway football coach John Gradwohl peers in from the Warriors sideline. (My Edmonds News file photos)

One of the most successful and longest-tenured careers in local coaching circles came to a well-earned conclusion last month, when John Gradwohl finished up as head football coach as Edmonds-Woodway High School after 28 seasons leading the Warriors.

Gradwohl’s first year at EWHS was 1996, and he’s been on the sidelines every fall since then. He said he’ll continue teaching at Edmonds-Woodway, where he has been a physical education instructor since he arrived on campus.

Edmonds-Woodway finished 6-4 overall and 5-1 in Wesco South games in Gradwohl’s final season, including a narrow 12-10 victory over Mountlake Terrace that propelled the Warriors into the playoffs.

During Gradwohl’s time at the helm (where he quickly earned a reputation for wearing shorts during games, even in the most foul of weather), the Warriors were consistent contenders for postseason play.

One of the team’s most impressive periods was from 2004-2007, when Edmonds-Woodway went on a torrid 41-7 run that included seasons of 8-3 in 2004, 9-2 in 2005, 12-1 in 2006 and 12-1 in 2007.

“John Gradwohl is Edmonds-Woodway football,” said Angie McGuire, Edmonds School District athletic director, who also worked with Gradwohl at EWHS.

Coach Gradwohl steps in at quarterback during an offensive drill.

Even with decades of success in terms of wins and losses, Gradwohl said those details weren’t nearly as important as some others.

Asked if he could name specific memories, Gradwohl hesitated for just a moment.

“Oh wow — there’s so many players, and so many stories, and a lot of things on the field and a lot of things off the field,” Gradwohl said.

“I’ve got a lot of memories; it wasn’t about the winning and the losing — the relationships are probably the biggest thing,” he said.

“John is about relationships and football is just a vehicle for building relationships with kids and helping them see things in themselves they don’t know they have,” McGuire said.

Gradwohl is a local product in nearly every way, having graduated from Woodway High School, and moving on to play football at Pacific Lutheran University.

After teaching and coaching for several years in California, Gradwohl returned to the Edmonds area and began his time as the Warriors’ head football coach.

“I was kind of coming home, and it just worked out,” Gradwohl said. “I didn’t know the Edmonds-Woodway job was going to be open, I was just hoping to find a job in the Northwest somewhere. After I’d been home for a little while, the job became open — the Mountlake Terrace (coaching position) was open too, so those were two jobs I applied for. The Edmonds-Woodway interview was first, so that worked out.”

Longtime Edmonds-Woodway football coach John Gradwohl paces the sidelines.

Gradwohl said he never tires of seeing former players and students. And in a city like Edmonds — which retains its small-town character in so many ways — that happens often.

“I really enjoy running into them, and hearing what they’re doing, and what they’re up to, and if they have a good story or a funny story about about when they played, it’s always appreciated,” he said.

“Every day John walks into the high school or walks on the football field he is 100% focused on what’s best for kids,” McGuire said. “He has always cared more about kids than winning, which is why his teams have done so well over the last 28 seasons.”

“What speaks volumes about John as a coach is how many of his athletes stay in touch with him and continue to come back after graduation to maintain that relationship,” McGuire added. “He has positively impacted so many lives — both and off on the field.”

Since hundreds of students have passed through his classes, it stands to reason that Gradwohl would be seeing multiple generations from the same families. It’s something he clearly relishes.

“I’ve had plenty of kids who I’ve taught their parents,” Gradwohl said with a chuckle. “That’s happening pretty fast. I run into a lot of them in many different places. It’s pretty cool.”

“It’s so strange to be talking about his coaching career at E-W as something in the past; he has been so important to the school for so long and has not only created a culture of excellence and integrity in the athletic department at EWHS, but also in the Edmonds School District,” McGuire said.

— By Craig Parrish

  1. I’ve known John since he was playing football through the Boys & Girls Club program in Seattle. His dad Gordy was the volunteer football coordinator and John and his brothers would drive from Lake Ballinger to Greenwood to practice and play. He followed in his dad’s footsteps where players were first and winning was secondary.

    Congratulations on a great career.

  2. Congratulations! What a great tenure- I still remember taking Gradwohl’s weightlifting class in HS in the early 2000s – it later enabled me to travel to NY and lead weightlifting at a camp as a college student. Such a fun teacher and great program.

  3. Best memories ever of John Gradwohl and the Friday Night Lights at EW! He was a powerful positive impact on my family and my two sons. EW will always be the glory days and much of that is due to Coach Gradwohl. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!!!! GO WARRIORS!

    Bill, Cathy, Andy (#15), Robbie (#8) and Caroline (helping the Budnicks in the concession stands on game nights).

  4. When John got the E/W job I got the Terrace job. We always had some great battles. Such a class act! Happy trails Coach!

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