By Bill Foley
The football field was calling to Eric Zahler.
After more than a decade coaching soccer at Butte High School, Zahler is joining the Butte High football program as an assistant coach.
Zahler, 39, accepted the job last week, and the move was kept secret until he notified the boys’ soccer team that he was resigning as the head coach on Monday.
“I’m a football-soccer guy,” Zahler said Thursday. “I gave soccer 12 good years. Every single year I think about being on the football sideline. It’s something I always wanted to do and something I always knew I would do.”
Zahler coached the Bulldog girls’ program for five seasons before taking over the boys’ team for the past six years. He led the Bulldog boys to two appearances in the Class AA State tournament, including last season.
“I think that was a pretty good accomplishment,” Zahler said.
The coach said his decision wasn’t based at all on the players or parents.
“It’s purely personal,” Zahler said. “I got the blessing from my family, and I did it.”
Zahler, a 1997 graduate from Eisenhower High School in Yakima, Washington, played football and soccer collegiately.
After two years on Walla Walla Community College soccer team, Zahler transferred to the University of Montana Western to kick and punt for coach Tommy Lee’s Bulldogs. He was an all-conferenceat both positions, and he tried out for several professional teams following the 2004 season.
On the football field, Zahler will work with the Butte High kickers and punters as well as oversee the overall kicking game for the Bulldogs. He’ll also work with tight ends.
Zahler, who worked with Butte High kickers such as Matt Berg, Jake Dennehy and Nathaniel Ferguson while still coaching soccer over the years, will still work Butte High’s 12th Annual Mile High Soccer Camp, which is set for July 24-27. He will work with his former assistant Riley McNabb, a 23 year old who was recently named the head coach of the Bulldog girls’ soccer team.
Zahler said he wasn’t sure who would take over for the Butte High boys’ program, which opens practice in four weeks.
“I’m sure it will all work out fine,” he said.
Chuck Merrifield, Butte High’s activities director, was unavailable for comment.