October 23, 2013

Centennial cultivates coaching longevity

Gettysburg's Barry Streeter said the school is "a tough place to leave." He'd know -- he's been the head coach there for 35 years.
Gettysburg athletics photo

With the offseason retirements of St. John’s legend John Gagliardi and TCNJ head coach Eric Hamilton, Gettysburg head coach Barry Streeter is now the longest-tenured active coach in Division III football. But, coaching in the Centennial Conference, it is no surprise that Streeter did not even notice. In the Centennial, football coaching longevity is commonplace.

Streeter is in his 35th season as head coach of the Bullets. He competes each season against Johns Hopkins’ Jim Margraff (24th season), Susquehanna’s Steve Briggs (24th season), Dickinson’s Darwin Breaux (20th season), Muhlenberg’s Mike Donnelly (17th season), and Ursinus’ Peter Gallagher (13th season). Each of these men is at the top of his program’s record book.

"It is a point of pride. Our long-tenured coaches are the winningest coaches in program history,” said Centennial executive director Steve Ulrich. “Their ability to coach and educate have strengthened the bonds between player and institution well after their playing days have ended."

Now 64, Streeter took over as head coach at the age of 28. He recruited Margraff out of high school, and coached against the former Johns Hopkins quarterback. Breaux was an assistant on Streeter’s staff in the 1980s. The trio have been coaching against one another in the Centennial for two decades and counting.

“It’s pretty neat, and it makes the conference that much more special,” said Streeter. “There is a special bond within the conference. We enjoy each other’s company.”

The conference coaches look forward to their golf outing each spring, where familiar faces abound. The mutual respect the coaches share for one another has only grown over time.

“The guys I coach against are all outstanding,” said Margraff. “I tell kids I recruit that if they are looking in-conference, they can’t go wrong. High quality guys and high quality schools make for a good match.”

The first thing the coaches mentioned when asked why they stayed in one spot for so long was unanimous and simple. They like where they are, and so do their families.

“This is a tremendous place to work,” said Breaux.

“This is a great place, first of all,” said Streeter. “It’s a tough place to leave."

“Number one, it’s a great place,” said Briggs. “We like it here, and things just worked out for us.”

There have been very few football coaching searches within the conference in the past three decades. In addition to the current crop, former coaches Tim Keating (19 years at McDaniel), Scot Dapp (24 years at Moravian), Tom Gilburg (28 years at Franklin and Marshall), and Jerry Pfeifer (10 years at Johns Hopkins) all enjoyed longevity at their schools.

"I believe that it is the quality of the institutions that make up the Centennial Conference,” said Ulrich. “Coaches find that the quality of the students that participate in football, combined with the ability to have a work-life balance in the conference, makes Centennial positions attractive."

The conference was strengthened by the addition of Moravian and Juniata in 2007 and Susquehanna in 2010. Of the 10 football teams in the conference, seven have coaches who are in at least their eighth season at their current school.

“When you look at the longevity of coaches in this league, it’s remarkable,” said Breaux. “It’s a real treat to be in this league. The rivalries are all friendly rivalries.”

None of the coaches set out with the intent to become the face of their football program. The history that has been made is just a byproduct of competing for a long time. Streeter, Margraff, Breaux, Briggs, and Donnelly each have over 100 career victories.

“If you hang around long enough …,” said Streeter, laughing. “I came here as a defensive coordinator in 1975, with a 4-month-old child, who is now 38. Now I have grandkids. It just means I’m not smart enough to relax.”

Streeter is now the standard bearer for longevity among all Division III coaches. He keeps good company in the Centennial.

"There is so much respect among the Conference coaches. I'm not sure you find that in many sports nor conferences,” said Ulrich. “You know that your opponent across the field does things the right way at a school that emphasizes academics first and football second. Sure, they want to beat each other on Saturday. But they also understand what the Centennial represents and have a stake in the success of all programs."

The coaches cited changes in recruiting and facilities as the biggest differences since they took over their respective programs two or three decades ago. One thing that hasn’t changed is the respect they have for one another and the other programs in the conference.

“The thing about the Centennial is that all the schools are very highly competitive academically and are all great schools,” said Briggs. “You’re judged by the company you keep. [The coaching longevity] is a credit to the institutions we work at. The main goal every year is to give kids a positive experience. It’s a tribute to Division III.”

CNU mourns loss

Christopher Newport was off to a great start to 2013, winning its first three games and climbing to No. 22 in the poll. Then, the unexpected happened. Ed Davis, in his third season coaching the Captains’ quarterbacks and special teams, was diagnosed with lung cancer. He coached half the week before the Methodist game, then went to Boston for treatment. Davis, who called the offensive plays from the coaches’ box for CNU, did not return to the team. He passed away on Oct. 14. Without their playcaller, the Captains have dropped two of their last three games.

“This is an experience you don’t ever want to go through,” said head coach Matt Kelchner. “How do you adjust, how do you gauge everyone’s feelings, and who do you talk to?”

Before he left for Boston, Davis told Kelchner to be honest with the staff and players. At first, everyone was optimistic that Davis would win his battle. Kelchner held a team meeting and asked how many players had a family member affected by cancer. By his estimation, over half of the players raised their hand. When he asked them how many knew someone who beat cancer, most of the hands remained in the air.

“At first, it was a shock, but we were optimistic, hoping for the best,” said Kelchner.

Davis brought 35 years of offensive playcalling experience to the program. That will be impossible to replace. Wide receivers coach Paul Crowley took over playcalling duties in Davis’ absence.

“Usually, a coordinator has a spring practice to adjust,” said Kelchner.

After losing to Methodist the week they found out about Davis’s condition, the Captains rebounded to defeat North Carolina Wesleyan. The week of Davis’s sudden passing brought a bigger challenge, and the Captains lost to Maryville, 30-17.

“It felt like we were kind of in a fog all week. I know I was,” said Kelchner. “We tried to think of everything we could do. We’re a tight-knit unit here.”

Davis’s funeral was held in Boston on Saturday. Christopher Newport will have a memorial for Davis following the season, in order for players and coaches from the area--Davis spent five seasons coaching at James Madison, also in Virginia -- to celebrate his life.

For now, the Captains must find a way to regroup and move forward, together. They won the USA South championship last year with two conferences, so all hope is not lost for the 2013 season. Still, the personal loss will take a toll over the remaining four regular season games.

“Those first three games, we were playing as well as we could,” said Kelchner. “You’re 3-0, you’re ranked, then BAM! -- this news hits you right in the face. It’s a tough obstacle to get over.”

Conference races clearing up

After a promising 3-0 start, Juniata was blown out by perennial conference powers Franklin and Marshall and Johns Hopkins prior to the league-wide bye week. Then, the Eagles bounced back in a big way, upsetting previously undefeated Ursinus, 28-7, behind Ward Udinski’s big day. The quarterback passed for 324 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 97 yards and a score to lead the Eagles. The Bears’ loss leaves Johns Hopkins alone at the top of the Centennial. The Blue Jays have dominated conference play through five games, by an average victory of 45.6-12.2. The schedule is backloaded, with contests against Gettysburg (2-3 in league play), Ursinus (4-1), and Franklin and Marshall (4-1) over the next three weeks.

As wild as the ODAC has been, the race is actually pretty clear with four games to play. Three teams are undefeated in league play, while the other five teams have losing records through three conference games. Randolph-Macon, Guilford, and Hampden-Sydney are leading the way at 3-0. The Quakers host the Yellow Jackets and Tigers over the next two weeks. If Guilford loses both games, The Game at Randolph-Macon on Nov. 16 will decide the conference title.

Hampden-Sydney head coach Marty Favret notched his 100th career coaching victory in the Tigers’ 33-12 win over Emory and Henry. Will McGhee rushed for four touchdowns to lead Randolph-Macon past Washington and Lee. He ranks third in the nation with 167.8 rushing yards per game and has 11 rushing touchdowns through six games for the Yellow Jackets, who have won five straight since a season-opening loss to No. 13 Johns Hopkins.

LaGrange and Huntingdon played one of the region’s most entertaining games of the year. The Panthers scored 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to rally for a 44-40 win. Graham Craig passed for 420 yards and five touchdowns. Shaqualm McCoy rushed for the go-ahead score with 57 seconds to play. The Hawks are now one of four teams with one conference loss in the USA South. Maryville stands alone at the top after defeating Christopher Newport. The Scots are the only team undefeated in conference play.

Wesley finds itself in an unfamiliar place at this point in the season, and can do little to help itself over the next four weeks. The Wolverines were upset on the road at Rowan, 24-17, and now has two losses. With games against non-Division III Menlo and Charlotte and Division III provisional member Alfred State, Wesley has to win out and hope that the other teams in contention for the three Pool B playoff bids falter. Of course, the Wolverines’ strength of schedule will put Wesley a notch above all other Pool B competitors come evaluation time.

What Did I Miss? Do you know about any upcoming milestones, big games or new names in the Mid-Atlantic? Please share them with me. If you have suggestions for next week's column, please reach out to me on Twitter at @adamturer or via email at adam.turer@d3sports.com.

 
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Adam Turer

Adam Turer graduated in 2006 from Washington and Lee University, where he was a two-year starter at free safety. He lives in Cincinnati and covers area high school sports in addition to his full-time job as an attorney. Adam has contributed to D3football.com since 2007 and is in his second year as Around the Mid-Atlantic columnist.

2007-2011 columnist: Ryan Tipps
2003-2006: Pat Cummings
2000: Keith McMillan
1999: Pat Coleman 

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