Challenge Awaits Spalding's Youthful New Grid Coach


March 06, 1992|By Pat O'Malley

Selecting the right person for a high-profile position, such as headfootball coach, is a major decision for a high school.

It's a crucial decision because football and basketball programs are the big revenue makers for schools. The financial needs of the minor sports teams hinge on the success of the football and basketball teams.

Winning, or at least competitive, football and basketball teams mean higher attendance, which means more money.

What's interesting is the way the coach is hired and how that No. 1 candidate emerges. The approach varies from private school to public school, and Archbishop Spalding had a unique way of hiring its new football coach.

It is important enough to succeed in football at Spalding that the Severn-area school engaged in a rather unorthodox method for high schools.The Cavaliers formed a search committee and conducted an intricate interview process.

I've found that the procedure the schools take in hiring coaches is something many fans and parents know little about. They often ask how or why was that guy chosen?

That question hasbeen asked over the past week after Spalding hired 28-year-old MartyHiggins, who has no previous head coaching experience, to lift its program from the doldrums.

County public high schools pretty much leave hiring coaches up to the discretion of the principal and athletic director. By county policy, the principal has to give the final stamp of approval, but the wise principal relies heavily on the opinion of his athletic director.

The athletic director is the one who hasto deal with the football coach on a day-to-day basis, and it's important that both sides are on the same page.

St. Mary's High Schoolbrought in an outstanding football coach in Brad Best three years ago. The decision to hire Best was made by Principal Sister Phyllis andvice principal/head lacrosse coach Jim Moorhead, with input from Athletic Director Carmine Blades.

"Sister Phyllis and I actually madethe decision to name Brad head football coach at St. Mary's," said Moorhead.

That vacancy created a controversy three years ago because some people at the school felt that the popular Sonny Conley shouldhave been retained as head football coach. But Sister Phyllis and Moorhead decided they wanted a teacher from within the school to coach the Saints, something Conley was not and Best was.

"We wanted someone who would be right for St. Mary's, someone we could work with andfeel comfortable with," said Sister Phyllis. "We know now we made the right decision."

No question they did because Best has an impeccable reputation as a coach and communicator with students. He has been quite an asset to the school.

Spalding is seeking the same sort of result, also amid controversy. Greg Fuhrman's season-ending resignation sent shock waves through the school, team, and booster club.

Higgins, a graduate assistant at the University of Maryland last year and at Bowie State before that, was hired in part because of his enthusiasm, youth and thirst for work ethic.

What makes the choice intriguing is that Fuhrman had many of the same qualities. It's hard to imagine a high school coach working any harder and putting in the long hours that Fuhrman did and he, too, was young and enthusiastic and never had been

a head coach.

But losing and the pressures that go with it took its toll on him after only two seasons. Fuhrman-coached Cavalier teams were 0-8-1 and 2-9-0, and parents with players onthe team said they threw in the towel after the third game of the season.

Fuhrman pointed to parental pressure and the daily commute home to Westminster in Carroll County as his main reasons for leaving.

There is no question he felt as if he was fighting a losing battle and that all the time in the world couldn't make it happen at Spalding. With a student body of less than 600, only about half of them boys, the numbers situation is not good.

In accepting the position last week, Higgins sounded a lot like Fuhrman that first year.

"I'myoung and I'll work hard," and "I'm just going to work my tail off" are some of the comments Higgins made last week.

"I'm here for onereason and that is to build a tradition of success and excellence inSpalding football, and you do that with hard work," Fuhrman said in his first year, during which he regularly put in 16-hour days.

Fuhrman was optimistic he could turn things around. Higgins feels the same way. "I wouldn't have taken the job if I didn't think we could win," he said.

The difference between the two is that Fuhrman was hired by a committee that didn't include a veteran ex-coach. Higgins wasselected by a committee that included Principal Barbara Schwitzer, Athletic Director Domenic Pachence, faculty member Bert Kiesling and retired Navy assistant coach Steve Belichick.

Fuhrman was the choice primarily of Schwitzer and Pachence.

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