A coaching conclusion

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 14, 2005

Imagine a football coach who wasn’t too concerned with winning. Is there such a thing as a coach who didn’t care how many yards his running backs gained, how many passes his receivers caught or how many tacklers his linebackers made, as long as they learned how to behave on and off the field.

Today, coaches like that might be in short supply. But for 26 years, Suffolk knew at least one.

Back in 1979, John Bangley was quarterbacking Nansemond-Suffolk Acad-emy, and things were going better than fine. The Saints were routing their opponents 28-0 at the end of the first quarter, and Bangley came to the sidelines. Between high-fives from his teammates, friends and other coaches, Bangley heard coach Terry Crigger tell him not to throw any more passes.

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Bangley agreed, and headed back onto the gridiron. As play after play rolled by, he took the snap and handed off to his running backs. But before the half could end, he spotted a receiver wide open near the endzone, and his instincts took over, as he fired a touchdown pass to the fellow Saint.

&uot;Even though that was the right play to call, I wasn’t supposed to do it,&uot; Bangley recalls. &uot;When I got to the sidelines, the coach told me that I wasn’t playing quarterback for the rest of the game.

&uot;It was a great point, a lesson well-learned. It was much more than not doing what he said to do, it was that we weren’t trying to rub it in on the other team. We didn’t disrespect the game when we played it with him.&uot;

The next year, it was Danny Holly’s turn to learn.

&uot;On the last play of the first half,&uot; said the former NSA running back, &uot;a guy on the bottom of the pile hurt me. He twisted my ankle. I got up and flipped the ball at him. I told him I’d be back.&uot;

He was wrong.

At halftime, Crigger took the boys into the locker room and told them what was right and what needed improving.

&uot;At the end, the players were leaving,&uot; Holly says. &uot;He said, ‘Holly, you might want to put a sweatshirt on, because you’re not playing the second half.’ I knew I’d done wrong and disappointed the team.&uot;

It was the last time.

&uot;I was twisted and poked and a lot of other things,&uot; Holly says, &uot;but I always kept my temper under control. I think he taught everyone how important discipline was; no matter who you were, no matter what level you were on the team, everyone had the same set of rules.&uot;

Bangley went on to play football and the Virginia Military Institute and Elon College, where he’d win two national championships, set single-season and career school records in yards and, in 1992, win induction into the Elon Hall of Fame. Holly won a full scholarship to the University of Richmond, and tried out for New England and Dallas in the NFL.

Sounds like they listened. And that’s why, though Crigger, who retired when the football season ended last Friday – with a 46-14 defeat of visiting Hampton Roads Academy – won’t only be known for his 134-68 record, three undefeated seasons, three state titles and 10 conference titles; he’ll be as well known for the fact that his team’s won the TCIS Sportsmanship award every year since the honor’s 2000 inception.

A few of those conference titles came at Tom York’s expense.

&uot;I think our relationship was probably the best that two coaches could have,&uot; said the Norfolk Academy coach. &uot;I think that we both coached our guys like it was the most important game of the year. What I can say about Terry is that he’s one of the finest guys I’ve ever coached again. His kids always play hard and play right to the end. He’s a class act and I’ve never experienced anything but the best relationship between us. You wish the coaching profession had more people like him.&uot;

So does St. Anne’s Belfield head John Blake.

&uot;He’s a great man in every aspect,&uot; Blake said. &uot;Football in general’s going to miss Terry Crigger, because there aren’t too many guys like him left around. He always got the most out of his kids. Coming down there or them coming up here, we always knew it was going to be a battle, no matter what.&uot;

Perhaps Mike Debranski could have told them – after all, he knew before anyone else. After Crigger finished his own playing career at Princess Anne High School, Chowan and Elon, Debranski brought his aboard the coaching staff at Suffolk High School.

&uot;He was young and energetic,&uot; Debranski recalls. &uot;He was full of enthusiasm, and he knew football. He got along really well with the kids, and still was tough enough that we had good discipline.&uot;

In Crigger’s first year, the team, equipped with just 16 players, brought home just two wins.

&uot;It was a tough situation,&uot; Debranski says. &uot;From there, we progressively built our dynasty.&uot;

Only a few years later, the team was ranked in the top five of the state. Soon after, Crigger kicked off what would be the longest coaching tenure in NSA history.

&uot;He taught me composure,&uot; Bangley said. &uot;He taught me how to treat the game, about being a person as well as a football player. The way I played and the way I coach today has a lot to do with Terry Crigger.&uot;

Bangley, now in Winter Haven, Fla., just finished his inaugural year of leading the All Saints (what an ironic name!) Academy, his team ending up with a 6-4 record.

Meanwhile, back home in Suffolk, athletic director Randy Davis is in the unenviable position of replacing Crigger, who told Davis at the start of the year that it would be his farewell tour.

&uot;Terry’s been doing it for a long time, and we knew he wanted to spend a little more time with his family,&uot; Davis says (Crigger’s son and daughter both attend NSA). &uot;Anytime you replace somebody that’s been coaching at your school for over 20 years, not just coaching, but teaching kids right way to do things, winning the right way and losing the right way, it’s going to be tough to find someone who does that.&uot;