Since It Got Best, St. Mary's Football Is Getting Better


September 21, 1990|By Pat O'Malley

A former running back from Temple University whose promising football career was ended by a knee injury was the coach and Kelly Oliver was the quarterback, the year St. Mary's of Annapolis completed an unbeaten season with a 27-6 romp over Wroxeter.

It was 1978, one year after an 8-2 campaign, and Mike Busch, now a state delegate, was coach of the Saints' football team. The 1978 season was the best at 9-0-1 (with the tie a 21-21 tussle with archrival Severn).

That was the last year the Saints' football team went through an entire season without losing.

Now, 12 years later, St. Mary's is 3-0 under Brad Best as it heads into today's 4 p.m. home contest vs. Boys' Latin of Baltimore, a club it defeated, 20-6, a year ago on the way to a 3-7 mark.

Since that banner season of 1978, the Saints have had six coaches in between Busch and Best, with the latter the fourth in a five-year period. During that stretch, there have been only three winning seasons.

Under Joe Devlin the Saints tumbled to 4-6 in 1979, but came back to 5-4 in 1980. Then came Don Gardner with a 2-17 two-year record and Doug Macey who racked up a 6-13-1 in his two-year tenure. In Sonny Conley's two years as head coach, they went 7-3 (1985) and 6-3-1 (1986).

Conley won the Tri-County League title both those seasons, but after philosophical differences with the St. Mary's administration, he was replaced by Mike Codd. Codd won his last three games to salvage a 3-7 season and set an optimistic tone for 1988.

That optimism soon vanished as Codd had to leave due to a heavier workload as an administrator at Annapolis High. Ex-University of Maryland and Washington Redskin lineman Dave Crossan, who was a Codd assistant, took over, and the Saints went 1-8.

Crossan was the sixth coach since Busch who wasn't an on-faculty head football coach. He was to be the last.

The school made a decision to find someone who would fill the dual role of teacher and coach.

"The school was actively looking for a coach who would be in the school and be able to tap the talent in the school," said Busch, a St. Mary's grad who helped organize a Royal Blue Club of boosters and alumni.

That decision has paid off as Best improved upon the 1988 season to a 3-7 log in 1989. He already has matched that win total this fall with seven games to go.

With Best teaching physical education at the Catholic school, the football program has been reborn.

His first year, Best had only 50 players try out, but after talking up his program on a daily basis, Best was ecstatic to see nearly 70 boys show up this August.

"By being in the school, you build confidence in the kids because they see you during the day," said Busch, speaking from experience as a former St. Mary's teacher and football coach, who went 31-8-1 in four years.

"Brad came to us with great credentials and is an excellent football coach period, not just football coach, but coach period."

Former Glen Burnie High coach Joe Rotellini, who is head football coach at Salisbury State, recommended Best to St. Mary's. Rotellini had worked with Best at Shippensburg State, where the latter was an assistant football coach.

Best had been a graduate assistant football coach at New Mexico State and a head coach at a small Pennsylvania school, called Southern Huntington, before going to Shippensburg State. He played college ball at Division III Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio.

"Everybody at St. Mary's was excited about Brad when he came down to interview, and he has really gotten involved in not just football, but the entire athletic program," said Busch.

Busch's claim that Best "is a good coach, period" is well-supported by the guy's taking over the wrestling program and turning in a 17-2 season when he always had been a basketball coach during the winter months.

He topped that by turning in a superb job coaching the freshman lacrosse team for veteran stick coach Jim Moorhead, despite going just 3-12.

"Brad had never seen lacrosse until he came here, but he can coach," said Moorhead, who is also vice principal at the school.

Best disputes that and says Moorhead is just being nice.

"I think I hurt their lacrosse image," laughed the coach, who says he will do it again this spring with the ninth-graders. "I had no clue what I was doing, but I learned a lot from two great ones in Jim (Moorhead) and (assistant) Freddy Kramer. I'm looking forward to improving our record."

Best wisely came in with an open mind and the willingness to listen to others, which is usually the sign of an excellent coach. The successful coaches make the final decisions, but only after tapping all of their resources and taking input from their assistants.

Best has brought back Codd as an assistant along with one of Codd's former assistants, Tom Newman. Add another familiar face to St. Mary's athletics in O.T. Campbell, plus longtime Cape St. Claire youth football coach Vince DePasquale, and Best has himself a fine coaching staff.

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