Commentary

Coaches trend toward sport specialization

Updated: October 9, 2008, 4:47 PM ET
By Doug Huff | ESPN RISE.com

While attending a recent high school class reunion, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia and asked the question that prompted this week's column: What happened to all the football coaches who used to guide two or more other athletic teams?

[+] EnlargeLou Cvijanovich
ESPN RISELou Cvijanovich found success across multiple sports.

Once upon a time, back in the 1950s and '60s, it was common for coaches to take the reins of football, boys' basketball and either the baseball or track teams at a high school.

That was the situation at Magnolia High School in New Martinsville, W. Va., where Bob Sullivan was a three-sport head coach and where I served as the student manager/statistician.

Sullivan coached the Blue Eagles to the school's first state basketball championship in 1961, and in the fall his Blue Eagles football team compiled a 10-0 season. In the spring, Sullivan was the baseball coach.

That three-sport coaching situation wasn't unusual during that era. Many of the Blue Eagles' opponents also had multi-sport coaches who roamed the sidelines in the fall, paced the hardwood in winter and sat in the dugout in the spring.

Not anymore.

The age of athletic specialization has not only reached athletes but also coaches.

With many high school athletes in today's professional-or-bust climate deciding to focus on one sport early in their athletic careers, multi-sport coaches seem to be following suit.

A check of the winningest active football coaches in the land reveals only a handful who have coached another sport at the high school level.

The most successful football coach in that category would be Larry Campbell of Lincoln County High School in Lincolnton, Ga.

Campbell, who was inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame in 2000, has been the Red Devils' head football coach since 1972 and enters this week with a 419-72-3 record. That's the third highest win total in U.S. history, ranking behind only two other active coaches: John McKissick of Summerville, S.C., and J.T. Curtis of John Curtis Christian School in River Ridge, La.

All three serve as school athletic directors, but only Campbell takes on the additional duties of coaching baseball and track during the spring at the Class A Georgia school.

Another quick check of the coaches on ESPN RISE FAB 50 ranked teams reveals just a few who lead more than one sport at their school.

With the exception of Campbell, few coaches who have been inducted into the National Hall of Fame are cited for piloting multiple sport programs. And hardly any have done it in recent years.

One honoree, Lou Cvijanovich, of Santa Clara High School in Oxnard, Calif., compiled an outstanding record of 829-261 in boys' basketball from 1958 to 2001. He also coached baseball from 1958 to '70 and football from 1958 to '76. His overall record in all sports was an outstanding 1,091-366-4.

Cvijanovich is a rare exception in an era dominated by single-sport coaches, especially those who guide football programs.

The Stuff


Milloy
Coach of the Week
Clearly, veteran coach Bob Milloy told his Our Lady of Good Counsel players from Olney, Md., that a fast start was vital in the Falcons' nationally-televised showdown against DeMatha last week. Even programs like DeMatha find it almost impossible to rally from a 28-0 deficit, although the lead was cut in half before the Falcons, behind quarterback Tyler Campbell (9-of-9 for 171 yards and 1 TD) and Maryland commit Caleb Porzel (14 carries for 136 yards and 3 TDs), re-established their dominance. Milloy, who has more than 300 career wins in 37 seasons, has enjoyed great regular-season success in recent years against DeMatha, winning three straight. The goal this year will be to show the impressive 42-21 victory was just a preview should the two meet again in the playoffs, since Good Counsel beat DeMatha in the regular season last year, only to be ousted by the Stags in the playoffs. With the win, Milloy's 5-0 Falcons jumped into the ESPN RISE FAB 50 at No. 50. Milloy started his coaching career in 1961 and was successful at three other Maryland schools -- Sherwood, Springbrook and Whitman -- before arriving at Good Counsel in 2001.


James
Lebron James sees his alma mater win
People often forget LeBron James was quite the football standout as a sophomore and junior when he attended St. Vincent-St. Mary High School of Akron, Ohio. Friday, St. Vincent-St. Mary took on archrival Walsh Jesuit in the annual Victory Bell Game, and according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, the NBA superstar was on hand. He watched a thriller. With St. Vincent-St. Mary leading 14-10, Walsh Jesuit had the ball at the one-yard line with seven seconds left. The call went to running back Armand Dehaney. He didn't get in. Dehaney's attempt to leap over the pile was stuffed by Irish defensive tackle Ben Bertsch, among others. St. Vincent-St. Mary preserved the 14-10 win and improved its season record to 6-1.

On the pulse
Chew on some of these morsels, courtesy of Nick Finger, senior running back from Millbrook High of Millbrook, N.Y. In a wild 66-57 win over Tri-Valley of Grahamsville, Finger was finger-lickin' good with 41 carries for 485 yards and eight touchdowns. According to the Poughkeepsie Journal, coach Sean Keenan also called Finger's number for five successful two-point conversions. That gave him 58 points scored on the day, one more than the Tri-Valley record and two more than the reported New York state public school record. The previous record of 56 points was set first in 1921 by Homer Geoffrion from Lafayette (Buffalo, N.Y.) and was tied in 2004 by Jason Gwaltney of North Babylon.


Wingo
Wingo flies high
Another running back last weekend who went over 400 yards rushing for one game was Ronnie Wingo, senior from St. Louis University High of St. Louis, Mo. Wingo, a 6-foot-3, 204-pounder, is rising up the recruiting charts with official visits set up with Alabama, Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois and Kansas. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Wingo ran wild for the Junior Billikens in their 63-42 victory over Vianney. He carried 32 times, racked up 403 yards and scored six times. Wingo, who also caught two passes and had seven TDs in all, broke a school single-game scoring record that was set in 1921.

A common denominator
Do you see one reason why the players from New York and Missouri were able to amass so many yards and touchdowns in one game? They were both great, no doubt, but they also benefited because both defenses at their schools couldn't stop a flea. Having a porous defense is always beneficial for any offensive football record-breaking. This is because if teams with stellar offense and defense get too far ahead, the coaches have no choice but to pull their starters and insert second-string or third-string players.

Doug Huff is a senior editor of ESPN RISE and is a member of the National Federation Hall of Fame. He has been compiling national and regional rankings in multiple sports since 1987 and is credited as the founder of the national record book. Mark Tennis and Steve Brand also contributed to this column.