Football shake-up is official at Bel Air Blizzard out, Riley in as varsity coach

February 28, 1993|By John W. Stewart | John W. Stewart,Staff Writer

The athletic department at Bel Air High has resembled of late a version of the old shell game. The difference is there is a problem under every shell.

Countless rumors and stories pertaining to personnel and programs have run rampant.

Since early December, however, football has drawn most of the attention.

Now, principal William M. Ekey has confirmed what has been speculated on for weeks.

"Bruce Riley has replaced Gene Blizzard as head football coach at Bel Air High School," he said.

Ekey said he had not made the change public at the time it was done to give Riley and assistant Doug Dempsey a chance to put some of their ideas in place without a lot of attention.

Dempsey is a former varsity assistant who teamed with Riley to )) produce junior-varsity records of 10-0 and 8-2 the last two years.

Last October, Dempsey indicated he would not be back in the fall of 1993. Ekey admitted he was concerned because Dempsey and Riley worked closely as a team.

"We had 55-60 JV players who loved them. And I thought they were terrific coaches and terrific young men," he said.

"Last season, we had some vacancies on the varsity coaching staff, and there were some parents who wanted Riley and Dempsey moved up, but I didn't want to make any changes until after the season."

The principal's first thought was to add the two JV coaches to Blizzard's varsity staff, but that didn't work out.

"Shortly after the season, I talked with the two JV coaches, and it came down to a choice between keeping Blizzard or keeping Riley," Ekey said. "The sole reason for making the change was Gene was unable to carry out something that I wanted done.

"Normally, my hands are off the athletic program."

Blizzard, who has coached for 17 years, has been at Bel Air for seven years, the last two as head football coach. He kept juniors and seniors on the varsity, letting the younger players -- even those who might have helped -- stay on the junior varsity learning fundamentals and getting playing experience.

The varsity records were 0-10 and 2-8, but "last fall, as the season went on, I thought our quality of play improved," Ekey said.

Blizzard said that at one point last season Ekey called him into his office and asked if he'd mind having Dempsey on his varsity staff next year. There were two vacancies and he wanted to fill them with Dempsey and Riley.

"I told him OK. It was no big deal," Blizzard said. "The only indication I had was that I was going to be the head coach. The end of November Mr. Ekey told me the two would be my assistants.

"I didn't have a good feeling about it, but later in the week, Doug called me and asked if I thought we could work together. I was reserved, but said I thought we could, and later told Bruce we could give it a trial. They both thought it would work and that's what I thought."

That situation changed a short time later, Blizzard said.

"The Monday morning after our December wrestling tournament [Blizzard is Bel Air's wrestling coach], Mr. Ekey said he wanted to see me. We'd had an incident over the weekend, and I asked if it was about wrestling, and he said yes.

"In his office, we talked about the incident and then, out of the blue, he said, 'I'm going to replace you as football coach with Bruce Riley.' It devastated me. I'm not over it yet. I love the kids and I enjoy working here. And what really bothers me is he told a few people I resigned. I'd never think of resigning. I was fired.

"Mr. Ekey gave me a perfect coaching evaluation -- after I was fired."

Ekey said he liked the willingness of Riley and Dempsey to put in extra time with an active weight program, fund-raising, home visits and the possibility of a preseason camp. But Blizzard, who is seeking a teaching/coaching position elsewhere, pointed out he had had an optional winter weight program and followed closely the academic progress of his players.

Riley, an Abingdon native who graduated from Edgewood High in 1981 and the University of Maryland in 1987, has been a teacher at Bel Air since the fall of 1988. He considers Dempsey a co-coach.

Riley has relinquished his duties as head lacrosse coach because, "football needs are a full-time job and I couldn't handle my other responsibilities," he said.

Ekey said, "I am extremely pleased. There is a level of enthusiasm, an effort to get ready. I don't know or care about the record; I know we'll improve. Good management will lead to a better team."

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