The high school football landscape is littered with legendary coaches.
One of the great things about high school football is that many coaches stay at their schools for decades, rather than job-hopping across the land, as their college counterparts do. When they experience success, they don’t look for a higher-paying gig. Rather, they remain in place and build regional dynasties that sometimes make national news.
These 10 men have led schools to state — and in some cases national — titles, stocked collegiate rosters with talent and established winning cultures that sometimes span generations. Each comes from different circumstances, but it’s no surprise that they share some similarities, too.
Bob Beatty, Trinity (Louisville, Ky.)
Coach, Not Friend
In late May, a Trinity (Ky.) High School player approached head coach Bob Beatty and said, “I can’t wait for practice to start.” Beatty was a little surprised by the remark.
“You’re ready for me to scream and yell and cuss and spit?” he asked. “Sure,” the player said. “You’re not my friend. You’re my coach.”
Beatty had to smile, because that’s the way he approaches his players. “I don’t have 17-year-old friends,” he says. But he has 17-year-old champions. During his 13 years at Trinity, he has compiled a 165–21 record and captured 10 state titles. His 2011 team finished 14–0, ranked first in the nation and outscored opponents 697–116. The Shamrocks train, practice and play 11 months of the year, and little if any of it is fun.
Except the winning, of course.
“If you’re going to be in this program, you’re going to punch the clock,” Beatty says.
Beatty spent 13 years (10 as a coordinator, three as head coach) at Blue Springs High School in Missouri. While there, he envied the success and atmosphere at Rockhurst High in Kansas City. In 1999, a friend of his asked what job he would like. Beatty answered, “Rockhurst.” That wasn’t available, but the friend knew of one that was and that was similar to the Rockhurst experience. That was Trinity.
Beatty turned it down.
“At the time, my daughter was going to be a senior at Blue Springs, and I wasn’t sure where my wife would work,” Beatty says.
A year later, the job came open again, and Beatty took it. Since then, the Shamrocks have been nearly invincible. It’s no secret why. At one point, Beatty visited then-University of Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, and Petrino told his staff, “Let me introduce you to the only guy whose team works harder than ours.”
That is true. When workouts start in late May, Beatty tells his team: “You had better pray hard, because you belong to me now.” The Shamrocks aren’t on the field forever, but the time they spend is intense and productive. “We try to get more done in two hours than other teams do in two weeks,” Beatty says. There are no superfluous meetings. It’s all about efficiency and winning.
“If I have one more (point) than the opposition, then I’m going to have a better weekend than they will,” Beatty says.
And he has had a lot of good weekends.
Al Fracassa, Brother Rice (Birmingham, Mich.)
What A Run
When Al Fracassa was playing quarterback at Michigan State back in the 1950s, his position coach encouraged him to sit in the front row for every meeting, the better to learn as much as possible. Decades later, those lessons still resonate with Fracassa, who enters his 45th and final season as head coach of Brother Rice High School in Birmingham, Mich. “I learned about every position while in college,” Fracassa says.
At State, Fracassa was part of the 1952 national title team and the ’54 outfit that reached the Rose Bowl. At Brother Rice, he has won eight state titles and compiled 372 career wins. (He won 44 at Shrine High in nearby Royal Oak.) The Warriors have captured two straight state titles and are a perennial power in the suburban Detroit Catholic League. Fracassa, 80, continues to enjoy the job and the players.
“It’s like anything else — if you love something, you’re probably going to stay with it,” Fracassa says. “Ever since I was a little kid, I had dreams of playing high school and college football. I got a lot out of it.”
Fracassa also wanted to play in the NFL, but that didn’t happen. So, he went into coaching. He started at Brother Rice in 1969 and still fondly recalls the top teams during his run. The ’74 outfit had 10 players receive Division I scholarships. The last two haven’t been too bad, either, as the Warriors have taken the Class 2 titles.
Unlike some older coaches, who defer to their assistants, Fracassa remains closely involved in everything regarding the program. He’s the one who opens the gym at 6 a.m. for four weeks during the winter to run agility drills for his players. Those who participate in each of the 12 sessions receive a two-ounce chocolate bunny, which Fracassa wraps carefully in black-and-orange ribbons (the school’s colors). Thirty Warriors earned their rewards this season from a man who remains engaged in their worlds.
“If a kid loves sports, it’s easy to communicate with him,” says Fracassa, who until recently taught world history and physical education at Brother Rice. “I’ve been fortunate that the kids here love this as much as I do. It makes it easy to coach and teach when kids love it.”
No one loves it more than Al Fracassa. Fifty-seven years on the sideline proves that.
Mat Taylor, Skyline (Sammamish, Wash.)
The Smart Wife
When Steve Gervais announced that he would be stepping down as head football coach at Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., Mat Taylor didn’t want to take over. Let’s face it: No one wants to be the man who follows The Man. And after 31 years as head coach at Skyline and other schools throughout Washington, Gervais was The Man.
The players wanted Taylor to do it. The community wanted him. Gervais wanted him. But Taylor turned down the job. “I didn’t set out to be head coach,” he says. The entreaties continued, as did Taylor’s refusals. Until he received a request he couldn’t resist.
“My wife said, ‘You have to do this,’” Taylor says. “So, I applied for the job and got it.”
Since taking over in 2008, Taylor has led Skyline to four state titles and a runner-up finish. The school, which sits 15 miles east of Seattle, opened in 1997, and Taylor joined the staff two years later. “I would have gone to Skyline, if it had been open when I was in high school,” Taylor says. The school has played in the large-school (Skyline has an enrollment of about 2,000) state final every year since 2004, except for the ’06 season. Taylor’s contribution to the run has been a 63–7 record in five years and a pair of back-to-back title campaigns, 2008-09 and 2011-12.
“The biggest thing for the program is that it’s all about Skyline and us,” Taylor says. “Within that simple statement are discipline, unity and protecting the school’s tradition.”
The last two Skyline teams have been piloted by quarterback Max Browne, who graduated early to enroll at USC and take part in the Trojans’ 2013 spring practice. Because of Browne’s pocket prowess, Skyline was a passing team the past couple seasons. But Taylor is not wedded to one system and will adapt his schemes to Skyline personnel. “You cannot be so proud as to say, ‘This is how we do it,’” he says.
Taylor is a full-time special education teacher at Skyline, which requires substantial energy. But he always has enough steam left for the practice field, and that’s a good thing. When you win four state titles in five years, people tend to expect excellence.
“When the bar has been set so high, and the expectations of winning big are there, that gets the juices flowing,” he says. “This is what I do, and it’s the only thing I know.”
Steve Specht, St. Xavier (Cincinnati, Ohio)
The Three Responsibilities
By the time St. Xavier (Ohio) players reach their senior year, they could probably recite Steve Specht’s pregame speech if awakened from the soundest of slumbers. He may vary the approach a little, based on opponent or the importance of the game, but his overriding message is the same.
“During my pregame speech, I talk about the players’ three responsibilities,” Specht says. “No. 1, love one another. No. 2, be the best you can be. No. 3, lean on each other when times get tough.”
The refrain is the same, and so are the results. St. X has compiled an 80–24 record and a pair of state titles under Specht, who became head coach in 2003.
In 2012, Specht was named the Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year and received $25,000, $15,000 of which went back into the football program.
Playing in the highly competitive Greater Catholic League, the Cincinnati school draws players from all over the area, thanks to its independent status. But each member of the program understands the mandate to keep improving and that winning big is the only answer on the field.
“I tell the kids the trouble with success is that people want more,” Specht says.
Specht is one of those people. He tells of standing on the podium after one of St. Xavier’s state championships and thinking, “What’s next?” The achievement was great. The joy it brought the school was substantial. But…
“I was excited for the kids and the staff and the community, but I felt there was more,” Specht says.
While that approach fuels Specht’s daily commitment to the game, he is not necessarily looking for anything all that dramatically different when it comes to his team's style of play. St. Xavier will play good defense, run the football and be sound in special teams. “It’s not the most attractive approach, but it works for us,” Specht says.
Specht is a 1986 St. Xavier graduate, so coaching and administrating (he was an English teacher for 13 years before moving up) at his alma mater mean a lot to him. He tries to impart that importance to his players every day.
“It means the world to me to be at this institution, which had a tremendous impact on my life as a young man,” Specht says. “The opportunity to come back and do what my coaches and teachers did for me is all I ever wanted to do.”
Joe Kinnan, Manatee (Bradenton, Fla.)
When Joe Kinnan tells his Manatee (Fla.) High School players that they had better do right, show up for practice and be on time, he isn’t bluffing. And anybody who wants to challenge someone who beat three different types of cancer is probably looking at a big loss.
Kinnan has won five state titles during his tenure at Manatee, which began in 1981 and has included a three-year detour after his first bout with cancer. His three rules for players haven’t changed during that time — Do right, be on time, don’t miss practice — but he has been certain to show flexibility on both sides of the ball.
“My coaching philosophy hasn’t changed, but nobody’s football philosophy can be stagnant,” Kinnan says. “At first, we were a trap option team with two wide receivers. Now, we’re pretty much in the gun, with a lot of option concepts. We started on defense in a 4-3 base. Then, we went to a 3-4. Now, we’re a 4-2-5.”
When Kinnan was diagnosed with cancer in 2001, he spent three years fighting that and running a series of charter schools for kids who had been incarcerated. But he missed the camaraderie with players and coaches and came back, only to be waylaid again in 2010, this time by renal cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Kinnan beat those and has continued to direct Manatee, using concepts he learned as a player at Florida State and an assistant at Arkansas, Southern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky.
He coordinates the offense but doesn’t coach a position, choosing instead to be a “big-picture guy.” To him, it’s vital for players to be at practice and be prepared, a lesson he learned from talking to coaches all over the country throughout his career.
“I don’t want to hear excuses,” he says.
After all Kinnan’s been through, he’s still standing. So, it would be kind of silly for a player to beg out of a workout because of a cold.
J.T. Curtis, John Curtis (River Ridge, La.)
If you’re looking to sit in on a staff meeting of the John Curtis (La.) team, you might want to try Sunday dinner. That’s where you might find J.T. Curtis, his brother, Leon, two sons, a son-in-law and three nephews enjoying a meal and perhaps discussing next week’s opponent.
“We have a cohesive staff, and that’s a huge key to success on any level,” Curtis says.
It makes perfect sense that at a school started by and named for his father, Curtis would stock his staff with family members. And though some who may want to gain a spot as a coach might balk at the staff makeup, no one could ever argue with Curtis’ success. During his 45 years at the school, Curtis has compiled a 520–54–6 record, with 25 state titles. The 520 victories are the second-most all-time for a high school coach.
His first team went 0–10, but there hasn’t been much trouble after that. Between 1979-82, the Patriots won 43 straight games. From 2004-08 they compiled a record-tying five consecutive state titles, and the 2012 squad was 14–0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today. Guess there’s something to that family stuff.
“The core of our staff understands what we’re trying to accomplish and has the same objectives and goals,” Curtis says.
Curtis’ father started the school in 1962, when his son was a high school sophomore. When the elder Curtis stepped down as principal, his son took over the position. You can just imagine the comments he gets when people hear his name and the school for which he works.
“They’ll say, ‘Coach, you must have done an unbelievable job there, because they named the school after you,’” Curtis says, laughing. “I’ve heard just about all of them.”
Not much has changed during Curtis’ time at the school. The Patriots still operate out of the split-back veer option, although the staff has made a few small adjustments. The defense is primarily a five-man front, but over the years, some four-man principles have crept into the equation. One thing that hasn’t changed is the discipline and work ethic demanded of the team.
Those basics are big reasons the 2012 edition was so successful. The talent was there, of course, but so were the tenets that have served Curtis and his staff for decades.
“The intangible ingredients are so important with any team,” he says. “We had good chemistry and a commitment level. The team was very skilled and had great team speed offensively and defensively. We did not give up many big plays defensively, and we had the capability offensively of making big plays. But the attitude and work ethic were important. We took care of the basics.”
Steve Lineweaver, Trinity (Texas)
If you’re looking for a reason why Trinity (Texas) High School is so successful, you’re going to have to look west of the school’s Dallas-area home. We’re not talking El Paso here. And even California isn’t far enough.
The secret comes from Tonga, the South Pacific archipelago, which is known for producing some seriously talented football players. Trinity assistant coach John Thompson estimates that “about 4,000” Polynesians can be found in the Hearst-Euless-Bedford school district, and a bunch of them play for the Tigers. Their presence helps Trinity play an “old-school type of football,” according to Thompson, and also brings notoriety to the team, thanks to the pre and post-game Haka dance the team does.
Head coach Steve Lineweaver came to Trinity in 2000 and has won three Class 5A (largest in Texas) state titles (2005, ’07, ‘09) while helping lift the Tigers to national prominence. For as much success as Lineweaver has experienced, he is almost aggressively anti-publicity, as his unwillingness to speak for this article demonstrates. But there is no denying his team’s accomplishments or its impact within the school and its surrounding areas.
“The Polynesian influence has led to a family atmosphere, and we try to take that into the community,” Thompson says. “(Steve) is big on interaction, and he tells the players not to be the kids who are problems in the classroom or the community.”
The Tigers are an I-formation offensive team and try to overpower opponents with their ground game. Thanks to its Tongan players, Trinity is often bigger than its rivals. The team’s 4-3 defense also aims to dominate at the point of attack.
“We try to run it down your throat,” Thompson says. “We take pride in trying to be the most physical team on the field. Our spring practices are bloodlettings.”
Trinity’s success has made it a favorite destination for Division I recruiters. One year, 10 seniors received Division I scholarships. But it’s not always that way. Thompson says an average of “five or six” players are offered each year but that the 2009 state title team didn’t have any players with Division I pedigrees. Though some measure programs by those metrics and by titles, Lineweaver and Trinity are happy to work one day and one game at a time.
That means the focus is entirely on national power Jenks (Okla.) High, the Tigers’ first 2013 opponent. Perennially strong Texas program DeSoto is next, and Bentonville, an annual bully in Arkansas, rounds out the formidable non-conference schedule. It’s the perfect way to start a season for a team with talent and tradition.
And some pretty impressive pregame and postgame performances.
Matt Logan, Centennial (Corona, Calif.)
If you are a Centennial (Calif.) High School football player, you had better be ready to move. Fast. Any team that tries to pile up more than 500 yards a game, like the Huskies do — and have done — can’t be standing around waiting for stuff to happen. It needs to be committed to speed.
“It all comes down to practice,” head coach Matt Logan says. “We do everything at a high tempo, even lifting. We try to get the players to understand the speed we play at.”
Last year, en route to a 14–2 record and the 2012 Southern Regional title, Centennial set a California state record with 8,573 yards in 16 games, breaking its own mark, set in 2010. During his 16 years at the school, Logan has a 173–39 record and won the ’08 state title. The Huskies have also won seven California Interscholastic Federation titles. And they have done it with a spread, no-huddle attack designed to put maximum pressure on opponents and pile up the yards. Think of a SoCal version of Chip Kelly’s Oregon teams, without the funky uniforms — although their all-black unis are pretty sharp.
Twenty-five years ago, there was one high school in Corona; now, there are four. Centennial was the first of the newcomers, and it has swelled to nearly 3,000 students. Logan estimates that about 250 players are part of the program and expects some pretty big things this season, since the Huskies return “quite a few players who have been offered Division I scholarships.”
The key to Centennial’s success, according to Logan, is the consistent level at which all players are expected to perform, in everything they do. Logan praises the commitment the school has made to football and athletics in general but adds that the Huskies reciprocate with plenty of effort and results.
“I think it’s just setting an expectation level,” he says. “It’s what’s expected of kids in the offseason and how we practice, spring, summer and fall.”
At maximum speed.
Bob Milloy, Good Counsel (Olney, Md.)
For 2013, Good Counsel (Md.) High School will have a quarterback who is not as well suited for the drop-back passing life as his predecessor was. Some coaches might ask the player to change. Bob Milloy looks at things the other way.
“Our new quarterback is a play-action guy and a runner, which is different than what we had the last two years,” Milloy says. “If a quarterback isn’t good at what you want to do, you have to adjust to him.”
One would expect a novice coach to have that kind of approach, but what about someone who has been a head coach for 42 years? No way. Those guys are supposed to be so set in their ways that they couldn’t possibly change. But you don’t win four straight conference titles and succeed at four different high schools by being stubborn.
Now, Milloy isn’t going to reinvent his offense every season. The basic tenets still apply. Good Counsel is going to run the Wing-T and make liberal use of its backs. That’s why his teams have boasted at least one 1,000-yard rusher every season since 1983.
“We play 13 games, so that’s not hard to do,” Milloy says, modestly. Right, coach. In the NFL, it’s still a big deal, and they play 16 times over there.
Good Counsel loves to run it off tackle, and everybody knows that. So, teams load up to stop that, and what does Milloy do? He adjusts.
“We have six core plays, and we try to run them out of motion and shifts and one-back sets and two-back sets,” he says. “We stick to our core as much as we can.”
Milloy will turn 70 in September, and many would consider that a good time to hang up the whistle. But that’s not what he wants. When he picked up the phone in May, he was in the middle of looking at what red-zone defense his team should be playing during the upcoming seven-on-seven league season.
“If I were to give up coaching, I don’t know what I’d do,” he says.
So, Milloy sticks around Good Counsel, a private, Catholic school with 1,250 students that doesn’t compete in the state playoffs. But the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference isn’t easy. In fact, Good Counsel met DeMatha for the league title five consecutive seasons and lost all five. But the Falcons survived that stretch to take the next four championships.
Why would Milloy ever want to leave that, especially when he isn’t ready to stop adapting?
Greg Toal, Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.)
The Iron Man
Greg Toal has always been a fighter, from his days as an amateur boxer, when he was never afraid to climb into the ring with guys bigger, stronger and more experienced than he was, to his time as coach at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J.
Toal had never intended to coach a game at Don Bosco, a team that had struggled mightily when he got the call to consider the job in 1999. He had committed to direct the team at Clifton High School, after leading Saddle Brook and Hackensack to state titles. Don Bosco? The Ironmen were playing on a field that appeared more like a sandlot than a gridiron and had lost 17 straight games to their main rival, St. Joseph of Metuchen.
Somehow, then-president Rev. John Talamo convinced Toal to accept the challenge. That’s really all he had to do — challenge Toal. From there, the coach’s natural competitiveness and unbreakable will took over. Don Bosco wouldn’t just beat St. Joseph — it would become a national power, finishing No. 1 in America in 2009 and winning eight New Jersey Non-Public Group 4 titles from 2002-11, including six straight from ’06-11.
“At that point, Don Bosco was at the bottom of the list,” Toal says. “There were a lot of challenges, because they hadn’t been very successful. But you only live once. You go for it. What’s the worst thing that happens? You lose.”
The Ironmen didn’t lose, because they replicated the intensity of their coach. No matter what he has done or coached throughout his nearly four decades on the sidelines, Toal has done it with a single-minded fervor. His pregame speeches are so filled with emotion and passion that former players often crowd the locker room to experience the moment, and on one occasion, a player hyperventilated after becoming so excited by Toal’s oratory.
“I remind them that they are representing their parents and their families and not to forget those things,” Toal says. “Passion is still part of the game.”
A private school that culls its student body from several different towns and socioeconomic classifications in North Jersey, Don Bosco is the perfect spot for Toal and his everyman approach to football and life. The Salesian fathers preach academic rigor and work to create an atmosphere that “empowers young men for life.” Toal does the same thing with his unflinching approach to physical football that has produced winners and compelled players to flock to his orbit, despite the hard-nosed climate of the program.
Toal understands that discipline is necessary for young men to grow as people and athletes. When he was at Hackensack High, he molded a roster of oft-troubled youths into a unit that won state titles from 1992-96. Many of the students at Don Bosco are not at risk — although some come from difficult backgrounds — but they require a similar firm hand. Toal may not need to employ the same straight rights he used in the ring, but his straightforward approach to football and life have served him and his players well.
“Toughness is a learned skill,” Toal says. “It’s not something you’re born with. It’s something that can be developed. It’s a mentality.
“Practice has to be harder than the games. When we’re in tough spots, like Alabama, when it’s 100 degrees, or Manatee, Florida, when it’s hot in the fourth quarter, you better be in good shape. Hopefully, you can break them before they break you.”
By Michael Bradley