End of an era? Football coach tenures shrinking
Brad Livingston's tenuous future at Central York brings about larger question
Coaching has become a lose-lose business. Even when coaches win, it's not enough.
How else can anyone explain all of the recent coaching turnover?
A year after replacing eight head football coaches in the 23-team York-Adams league, four league jobs are now vacant.
And a big question concerns Central York, where York County's granddaddy of all coaches, Brad Livingston, is apparently under the gun after 46 years with the program, including the last 34 as the head football coach. The administration isn’t currently talking about personnel decisions. And Livingston won’t comment. But more than 50 people showed up Monday to speak on his behalf at the most recent school board meeting.
If Livingston departs Central, the league will have lost its most senior football coach.
Nobody’s even close to matching his longevity. But 10 years ago, that wasn’t the case.
The league had five head coaches (Livingston, Terry Bupp, Denny Frew, Gregg Trone and Don Seidenstricker), each of whom had or would eventually coach at least 20 years at one program.
That longevity is almost unheard of now. By next season, more than half of the league's coaches could be in their first or second seasons at their respective schools. Biglerville’s Alex Ramos, with six seasons spent atop the Canners’ program, ranks fifth in the league in seniority.
“I should still be one of the young pups,” Ramos said. “How do you go into your sixth season and be one of the most senior coaches?”
Schools don't seem to lack candidates when hiring, and we often see familiar names re-hired at programs around the league. So is there a problem in the hiring process? Or is there a problem with high school football?
West York head coach Jeremy Jones admits he used to be one of the worst. Jones, who had a two-year stint as head coach at York Suburban before joining the Bulldogs last season, spent the majority of his free time devoted to high school football.
“It’s a nonstop process,” Jones said. “Spouses and your own children can grow to resent it.”
There’s offseason weight training. There are coaching clinics. There are camps. There’s spring practice. There’s preseason practice. There are film sessions. There’s the 10-game regular season with practices. And there’s the potential for playoffs.
A Spanish teacher, Ramos still spends three to four days a week at Biglerville High School in the summer because of coaching. This season, he granted his players three weeks off at the end of the season. Their offseason lifting program begins next week.
Coaches in the area still have careers. Many teach or serve as administrators in school districts and are compensated for their coaching via stipends. It's certainly not mandatory to work a year-round football schedule. But …
“If you want to be competitive, you do it,” said Seidenstricker, who works as the South Western athletic director and served as South Western’s head football coach from 1986 through 2011.
Bupp lived through the escalation of offseason demands as West York’s head coach from 1982 through 2011.
“It became harder all the time, and there were more expectations to win,” Bupp said.
The transition to a new program is not easy.
“At York Suburban, I didn’t work in the building, so the kids didn’t know me from Harry,” joked Jones.
Jones had to build a staff, and he had to build relationships with his players. That takes time.
Even communicating on the most basic level can be tricky in football, just because of the difference in terminology for different schemes. For instance, Jones opted to change his terminology because it was easier than teaching a whole team how he talked.
Then there is the whole process of evaluating.
“You can’t put your kids in the best position to succeed until you know what they do best,” Ramos said. “And sometimes you can’t see that stuff until you get into the season. … You can do all the 7-on-7s you want. Seeing them play in actual games is different.”
That takes time. Ramos said he didn’t feel comfortable until his fifth season at Biglerville.
Each coach, however, highlighted the importance of his staff. Seidenstricker credits his teams’ success during his coaching tenure with continuity in the coaching staff.
“I’m not just talking varsity: From seventh grade through 12th,” he said.
It’s difficult to argue with his results. The Mustangs won at least a share of 13 division titles in Seidenstricker’s 26 years.
The recent high turnover of coaches could be cyclical or it might just be a trickle-down process, Ramos said.
It typically works that way in football. The NFL does one thing. College football copies it. Eventually high school mimics them both. It works that way with offensive and defensive schemes, and perhaps firing coaches after just a few seasons is the new norm in high school sports — just like it is in college and pro football.
That’s a problem in high school. It places the importance on wins — which is not necessarily the end goal for high school athletics.
“The reason we have varsity sports is because of the educational principles students can take with them after they leave athletics,” Seidenstricker said.
Seidenstricker highlighted that varsity sports can teach teamwork, humility, dealing with failure and overcoming adversity.
But that’s not necessarily what all participants are after, especially in the age of pay-to-play club sports — where an emphasis is often placed on improving individual skill sets.
Bupp's football teams won 152 games and two district championships. He won more than most, but he noted victory totals can’t be the absolute gauge of success.
“Just because you didn’t win a lot in one season doesn’t mean you’re a bad coach,” Bupp said. "You might have gotten all you could out of that group of kids. Sometimes you just don’t have a group of kids with the same skill level as the teams you are playing."
Some programs buy into the big picture.
“I feel blessed,” Ramos said. “At Biglerville, they want to see us win and success is important, but … they also want to know if our players are acting like good young men should act. It’s not just the administration, it’s the community.”
Ramos pointed out that in 2013, Biglerville suffered through a 1-9 season after losing 16 seniors to graduation.
“They understood, we had 14 sophomores on the field,” Ramos said.
Last of his kind
The coaching landscape continues to evolve and change.
It's no longer a seasonal position.
It's no longer a lifetime gig or even a decade-long stopping point.
It's become a what-have-you-done-lately position.
When Livingston returned to teach and coach at his alma mater in 1970, he began what has become a 46-season coaching career. One of the more intriguing notes of his longevity involves his first coaching stipend. He served as the Central boys' ninth-grade volleyball coach in 1970. He told the York Daily Record four years ago he earned $50 that season. Note that wasn't a $50 bill for the first week of service: It was his entire coaching stipend.
And he kept coming back.
Whenever he leaves, he will be the last of his kind.