Making a difference Mitchell: Football coach's formula for success molds winners on and off the field at Dunbar.

September 10, 1996|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Dunbar principal Charlotte Brown describes him as "a disciplined, caring, conscientious role model who relates football parables to life."

He's "a perfectionist" to one of his players, and to friend and colleague Ben Eaton "a man obsessed, sometimes to a fault, with today's youth."

Those who best know Stanley Mitchell -- a Vietnam veteran and son of a truck driver and seamstress -- say he's a staunch man of ethics. He doesn't mince words when addressing his players, but chooses them carefully when speaking in public.

Combining those qualities, they say, Mitchell has conveyed a positive image of Baltimore City football, and hoisted his Dunbar program into the ranks of the state's most respected.

Poets players must maintain good grades -- no failures allowed -- participate in charities, take part in community service such as tutoring or mentoring elementary school children and "generally change your character to be a part of his program," said Eaton.

"Stanley's constantly trying to upgrade the program, promoting fund raisers within the community. Head to toe, his players are always well-attired and in complete uniformity in appearance on the sidelines," said Bob Wade, 51, Dunbar's former football and basketball coach for whom Mitchell was a volunteer football assistant in the early 1980s.

"He breaks down the game, walks the players through a scheme and makes clear how it hurts the team if not done properly. Players respect him because he's a take-charge guy. And now, he's getting statewide respect because he's taken the program to the next level."

Mitchell, 48, is 33-4 entering his fourth season, having won the city's first two state titles. Ten players from the first championship team went to college -- six on athletic scholarships. Six more from last year's team earned scholarships, including two-time All-Metro Defensive Player of the Year Tommy Polley (Florida State).

Mitchell has beaten several of Maryland's elder statesmen coaches, such as Churchill's Fred Shepherd (213-75-1), Poly's Augie Waibel (246-57), Cambridge's Doug Fleetwood (151-41), Fort Hill's Mike Calhoun (89-25) and Al Thomas (188-37), the first of only two coaches to win seven state titles, at Damascus and Seneca Valley.

In leading the Poets to last November's 30-28 overtime 3A state title win over Churchill, Mitchell was at his best. He saw Shepherd's 78-member squad, high-tech approach (the use of head phones to communicate with one of 11 assistants) and admonished his 27 players (he had brought up six junior varsity players to add to the 21 on the varsity) and four assistants not to worry about what you don't have, but to go out and earn respect for Baltimore City.

"Growing up, I never knew how poor I was until I went into the

service," said Mitchell, whose father, Edward, and mother, Pearl, each died of cancer in the 1980s. "My parents taught me that others might have more money, but I was enriched also by their knowledge about life."

A Dunbar and Morgan State graduate who played defensive back with the semi-pro Hanover (Pa.) Rhinos, Mitchell, who did not play at Morgan, was hired as interim coach one day before the first practice in 1993. The move came during a school board investigation into charges that former coach Pete Pompey, now at Edmondson, had misused athletic funds.

On almost a daily basis during his first month, Mitchell and his players endured protests from Pompey supporters. Many thought the high-profile job was too much for a man whose claim to fame was coaching Northwood's 11-to-13-year-old Pop Warner program to a national title. Mitchell coached Northwood for six years, winning the Maryland Football Association junior midget title in 1989 and losing the national title game in 1990.

During his initial season at Dunbar, however, Mitchell led the Poets to a9-3 record, the state semifinals and earned The Sun's All-Metro Coach of the Year honors.

"Some of the players stayed away from practice because they were loyal to Pompey, but Mitchell kept his mouth shut through the whole thing," Waibel said. "The kids who came to practice initially, Stanley kept them together. And before long, the others came back into the fold. He gained a lot of respect from everybody that year."

Mitchell, an assistant director of facilities operations and resident life at Morgan State, was hired permanently the following season by Brown.

Mitchell forces teams to adjust to an aggressive defense, and sets up opponents with an effective offense. Undersized players are not excluded from consideration; his positions are based on ability, tenacity and effectiveness rather than size or strength. Two years ago, for example, a 125-pound safety alternated as a long snapper on punts.

Doubters of this approach need only talk to those who have faced him.

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