When a team is losing, it's only natural for a coach to become the object of scorn. So, it's befitting that the same individual be applauded when the program's fortunes are reversed.
For Old Mill's Pete Regala, the Anne Arundel County Sun Football Coach of the Year, his moment of redemption has arrived.
In what Regala called "his most enjoyable year as a varsity coach," the Patriots hustled their way to a 9-2 record and claimed their first Class 4A Region IV title in the school's 16-year history.
"Every time you step on the field, you hear it from parents in the stands, but that comes with the territory," said Regala, who entered the season with a 33-37 record, including a three-year stretch when his teams finished 1-9, 4-6 and 2-8. "I've never doubted my ability, but I have learned a lot over the years, and I've tried not to make the same mistakes."
Heading into this season, the eight-year coach had not enjoyed a winning record since his first campaign in 1983, when his squad went 8-2 and captured the county title. But the Patriots were edged out by Arundel for the regional title when they dropped their final game to Glen Burnie, 34-14.
When Old Mill took the field Nov. 9 in its final regular-season game against the upstart Gophers, Regala was praying that history wouldn't repeat itself. And it didn't. The Patriots beat the Gophers on that chilly evening, 16-7, in an emotional contest for both sides.
"I was just hoping fate didn't strike again," said Regala.
The Patriots escaped the contest with a win, but paid a hefty price when their premier running back, William Beverly, was carried off the field with an ankle injury in the third quarter.
With Beverly's playing status questionable heading into the state quarterfinals against Wootton, the Patriots were expected to be making arrangements to turn in their equipment by halftime. Instead, Old Mill pulled together for 48 minutes and gave its Montgomery County opponent a battle before bowing, 17-7.
Regala's biggest hurdle was getting his players back on their feet after dropping a 21-13 decision to county champion Severna Park in the third week of the season. Regala modestly dismissed any implications that he resuscitated his ballclub.
"We had some injuries and problems all season, but Pete shuffled guys around and found the right people to fill the openings," said Old Mill assistant coach Jim Phelan. "I thought he did a fine job keeping the team focused this season."
"It just proved that they're winners," said Regala. "After losing that game, they could have put their heads between their legs and gave up, but they wanted to keep on proving that they were a good team. They truly believed in themselves."
Believing in his ability never has been a problem for Regala. After enjoying much success at the junior varsity level, Regala moved up with illusions that he would enjoy equal prosperity. He was sadly mistaken.
"I moved up from the JV level with the ambition of doing the same thing at the varsity level," said Regala, who boasted a 43-18-1 record as JV coach, including consecutive 8-1 records in his last three years. "But I learned real quick that there's a big difference between the two."
Old Mill athletic director Jim Dillon has witnessed Regala's roller-coaster career and is glad to see his veteran coach back on top.
"I'm very happy for him," said Dillon. "He did the things a coach has to do to be successful. Pete had a lot of success at the JV level and I know it's been frustrating for him when things weren't going right at the varsity level.
"Over the last couple of years he's had some success and he's been able to relax more. He had excellent leadership this year, but as you know, someone has to put it all together and Pete did just that."
After being down on his coaching luck for most of the past decade, Regala is enjoying the view from the top. More importantly, he's still managing to keep things in perspective.
"You can't do it by yourself," said Regala. "You need talent and you have to have a good coaching staff. I give my assistants a lot of responsibility and they respond very well.
"I feel our program is really on the upswing. We've gone through some lean times over the years but now we're at the top. Hopefully, we can stay there."