McNary Football, Sports

Astley tapped to lead Celtics football

Connor Astley stands on the sidelines working with the team during Spring camp on Monday, June 6. (JOSHUA MANES/Keizertimes)


There’s a new, yet familiar face leading McNary football. On July 14, Connor Astley was announced as the new varsity head coach, 11 days after Jeff Auvinen resigned from the position.

“This is definitely something that I’ve dreamed of for a long time, and I did not think it would happen this early in my coaching career,” Astley said. “But I definitely feel like I have a great support system both in the administrators and the coaches, and then of course my friends and family as well.”

Astley knows the sidelines of Flesher Field. He’s been there since 2018 and served as the junior varsity head coach since 2019, but that’s as far back as his coaching experience goes. 

When he first heard about the job opening, Astley said he called Auvinen, wanting to thank and congratulate him for Auv’s 30 years in coaching. 

And then it was time for him to focus on the opening.

“I was excited just to go through the process,” Astley said. “My immediate thought was ‘I need to get going. I need to start writing a resume, I need to start creating a cover letter, I need to start talking about the ideals that I want to bring to the program — character, strength and honor. Building players that are better people than when they entered our program.”

McNary Athletic Director Scott Gragg doesn’t see Astley as inexperienced though. And according to Gragg, none of the hiring committee members saw Astley’s youth and experience as a hindrance.

He had a hand in creating and installing the current offense and has an understanding of offensive line play — something Gragg, the former NFL offensive lineman, has an obvious affinity for.

“Positionally, knowing the fundamentals and development of offensive line play is critical in my opinion, and he knows how to do that really well,” Gragg said. “And he has evolved and grown and developed his style of offense and he’s got a lot of defensive minded people around him that will help him put the best 11 guys out there on defense.”

And coming from junior varsity, Astley has experience leading some of the players, and they have a familiarity with him in the role of head coach.

His knowledge of the offense, team and culture at McNary helped set Astley apart from the other candidates. There were eight in total, four finalists — some with successful head coaching experience, Gragg said — in the somewhat sudden and unexpected coaching search. 

“Had we had to make this decision of looking for a new head coach in November, I’m confident we would have come away with the likelihood of hiring Connor at that time,” Gragg said. 

Some of those other candidates were also current staffers. According to Gragg, they all threw their full support behind Astley after the decision was made.

A Salem-Keizer product, Astley played football at and graduated from Sprague High School in 2013. He then went on to win an NAIA Division II National Championship at Southern Oregon University. 

He graduated from SOU with his bachelor’s degree in 2017, and then his master’s degree in 2018 in an accelerated master’s program.

“I thought it was going to be rough, but after four years playing college football, getting up at 5 a.m., going to workouts,” Astley said. “It was actually easier than my four years of my bachelor’s”

Varsity and J.V. camp opens on Aug. 8, but Astley has some work to get done before that. He still needs to round out his coaching staff. 

Kyle McGrath is his offensive coordinator, one of four varsity coaches that have committed to remaining. But a decision on a defensive coordinator is still needed.

Astley and the McNary Celtics open the season on Friday, Sept. 2, at Lakeridge High School.