A peek into my one season of high school football coaching..what a great free-ride. I had asked Frank Sr about the girls’ softball job at St Joes in the fall of ’84 and he said “volunteer to help football and we’ll talk about the softball thing”. Fact is, I had no real “knowledge” of football having played until my sophomore year and not doing much of anything. I agreed to be a coach of whatever they asked me to do. Exactly one day later Frank Sr calls and says congratulations you are the new defensive coordinator for the sophomore team. You will be paid $350, and the head coach is Buck Steineger. The guy from last year was not returning. The staff was us, and two solid coaches for the freshmen, Dave Dummer and Brian Mosher…and Head Varsity Coach Bob Freund and Mike Gentile.
Still competing in the old Metro in the WISAA, it was hard to win in football due to sheer numbers. This team was just that talented and deep. A generational player like Jarvis Brown along with Scott Albert, also the third of the three JJ’s, Craig Campbell, Matt Cambio, Leo Reeves, Paul Brownlee, Dave Lasik, Dan Galvin, Craig Heller and Tommy Wat…one of the few JRs to really have a huge impact. I’m old enough to remember the greatness of Larry Carbone and Joe Fiorini at Lakefront Stadium but those were great individuals on good teams. The ’84 team was some of the true greats at their position, all on the same team. Cambio was a technically perfect blocking machine, and NO ONE in that school ever rushed the passer any better than Galvin and Heller while Lasik was the perfect “monster” at a defensive position the Packers would officially invent for Charles Woodson 15 years later. And JB was a once in a career dude.
Bob Freund is as good as any coach this area has ever seen, with all due respect to all of em. His playbook was in constant motion. He absolutely knew how to max his strengths and minimize his weaknesses. He was a master at kinda just screaming out, never screaming at someone and the players definitely responded to that. But he was 1000% in control of everything that was happening. He even found a few ways of using me..I scouted Waukesha Memorial three times and pretty much assumed he gave me this list and sent me to Waukesha South Stadium to keep me occupied. I completed the list and made like an extra $10 bucks on the trip for gas money..I think I did a good job. There was more to it. Mike Gentile coached like he played…all-in. All the Jarvis Browns in the world can’t win you the Metro if you can’t stop anybody. He was the perfect complement to Freund with a football IQ off the charts but a much different approach. Gentile drove that bunch
The Lancers won the games that were the usual “hey, at least we can compete” games against St Cats, Milwaukee Lutheran, Messmer and Dominican so the season would boil down to 4 games against the big boys. First big game was early..like Week 2 and we lost at Waukesha Catholic Memorial 6-0. Damn shame to lose that game but they knew they were able to compete. Second big game was home against Pius XI and the Lancers put a sound beating on a then undefeated Popes team and everyone knew this team was different. By the time we played Thomas More up there, a bid to the WISAA State Playoffs was very much in play. The play that will stick in my head forever…Jarvis Brown gets a block and gets the corner at our 20…one kid from Thomas More had an angle..all Bob Freund could yell was “he’s their sprinter!!”…meaning it was going to be an 80 yard race between JB and the WISAA State Sprint Champion. At the 50 it was a dead heat. By the 25 Brown had added 2 yards distance and by the 10 he had essentially ran away from the 2nd fastest kid in the state. After that W, the last big game was Marquette here and a late, extremely questionable block in the back call thwarted a drive and the team would end up with 2 losses and got a bid to the WISAA State Tournament.
The three scouting trips to Waukesha now came into focus. By Week 2 Freund knew if the Lancers would get to state that Waukesha Memorial would be the opponent. That is why I scouted them three times. That is some advanced coaching right there, folks. Taking a dude like me that really can’t help you a ton in game management but use my attention to detail and operational approach to the game to your advantage. Catholic Memorial was too much come tournament time and it was like a 21-7 type loss for the Lancers. Even though the season did not have a storybook ending, I’d challenge anyone to show me a better Lancer team. I’ll leave you with another favorite story that happened once at practice. Tommy Wat was pulling from his guard position and just obliterated some poor sophomore defensive end, driving the kid 15 yards towards the tennis courts. But for some reason, Mike Gentile was over by Tommy Wat just tearing into him. After he finished, Wat hung his head and went back into the huddle and Freund met Gentile near where were all standing. Freund said, “hey Mike, that was a pretty terrific block, don’t you think you were rough on Tommy Wat”? Gentile replied “Bob, he hit the wrong fuckin guy” and never missing a beat screamed the rest of the response so Wat and everybody could hear him “so I told him to hit the RIGHT GUY like an animal into the parking lot”. That is about all you need to know about Mike Gentile as a coach.
That was 35 years ago, and I honestly don’t believe there will ever be a more talented, deep team. Guys like Neu and Schultz and Mert and Tom Matteucci fillin in at center and linebacker when Leo Reeves dislocated his shoulder, they were all huge contributors. Our sophomore team won three games and should have won a fourth and our guys did their best to be a good scout defense. The freshman team was also very good and were probably as good as our sophomore team, truth be told. It was a great year to pretend to be a football coach. In a final example that solidified the uniqueness of this group, at the end of the year banquet, the most emotional speech came from the unlikeliest source. Hard charging Mike Gentile struggled to keep it together talking about the sacrifice of Craig Campbell, a college-bound basketball legit stud, wanting to be a part of this team and not being afraid to come out and to be great with this great bunch of players. That speech coupled with the absolute candor of Bob Freund, speaking to a room full of kids that came close to maxing out their huge talent just to be competitive was something successful football programs are made of. I was happy for the free-ride and the $287 take home pay was exactly $8 more than I needed to buy my then-girlfriend a $279 engagement ring she still wears today.