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Longtime PIL boys basketball coach Robert Key leaves Grant for West Linn, where he’ll succeed 4-time state champion coach Eric Viuhkola

“I’ve been a part of the PIL for 34 years, and I gave my heart to it. For me, it came to the point where change is good sometimes.”

By Bob Lundeberg | Photos by Taylor Balkom 

Robert Key was ready to try something different. 

After spending more than three decades in the PIL, Key recently stepped down as the head boys basketball coach at Grant to take the same position at West Linn. Key is replacing Eric Viuhkola, who resigned to devote as much time as possible to his son’s upcoming college basketball career.

“I’ve been a part of the PIL for 34 years, and I gave my heart to it,” said Key, a 1984 Marshall graduate who guided Grant to the 2018 Class 6A state championship. Key was inducted to the PIL Hall of Fame in 2015.

“For me, it came to the point where change is good sometimes. The most emotional part, of course, was saying goodbye to my former players, letting them know they are an extension of my family and I will always be there for them.”

Robert Key Taylor Balkom 2

Key had previous stops at Cleveland, Roosevelt and Hudson’s Bay in Vancouver when he took the Grant job in 2014. He compiled a 142-65 record in eight seasons with the Generals, reaching the state tournament three consecutive years in 2017-19. Grant went 19-6 this winter and lost at Beaverton in the state round-of-16, 45-44.

“Robert is a great coach and a great dude,” Viuhkola said. “We had a lot of great candidates apply and we ended up with one of the best coaches in the state.”

Viuhkola had two successful stints with the Lions, going 166-55 in his first eight years (2008-16) and 47-13 the past three seasons. Led by current Boston Celtics reserve guard Payton Pritchard, West Linn won four consecutive state titles to close Viuhkola’s first run. 

The Lions placed third at this year's 6A state tournament behind junior guard Jackson Shelstad, an Oregon commit, and senior Zeke Viuhkola, who is going to play for Westmont College in Montecito, California. 

“My wife and I want to get down there as much as we can, and that would have been impossible if I was still coaching,” Viuhkola said.

Eric Viuhkola Taylor Balkom

Key completed a two-part interview last week and was officially hired Friday. He was particularly drawn to West Linn’s tradition of winning, which was also a factor in his decision to take the Grant job nearly a decade ago.

“I always felt like I had a top-five program at Grant, and I felt West Linn was the same,” said Key, who will have a shorter commute from his Gladstone home. “I’m going into my last stage of coaching and think I have eight-to-10 more years left. I feel like I did a very good job at Grant High School, and the program is in great shape. I leave there with a lot of people I gained relationships with. The culture was great, the community was great. The teachers, the athletic office, they were all awesome.”

Key and Viuhkola believe in many of the same offensive and defensive principles, which should allow for a smooth transition. The two coaches are going to play golf later this week so that Key can pick Viuhkola’s brain.

“Coach Viuhkola led by example, and I want to continue his legacy and what he’s done there,” Key said. “I think West Linn will continue to be a winner, and that was a big part of it for me. I didn’t want to start over and try to build a program, I wanted to go somewhere where I could fit right in. I’m looking forward to it.”