Plymouth South coach Scott Fry saw a lot of familiar faces when his team faced Plymouth North on Thanksgiving morning.
His Panthers fell, 49-0, while resting key starters ahead of their Division 4 Super Bowl matchup against undefeated Melrose on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Gillette Stadium. But it was still a reunion for Fry.
The 1989 Springfield College alum spoke afterwards with his former coach, Mike DeLong, the winningest coach in program history in a 32-game run from 1984-2015. On Plymouth North and South alone, there were five coaches — including Fry — who played and developed much of their coaching acumen under DeLong.
Fry and Melrose coach Tim Morris (Class of ’83) said they learned a great deal about coaching from their time at Springfield College. Both coaches could list a number of friends and roommates who also went on to become high school football coaches.
So, what is it about Springfield College that seems to breed great coaches?
“That’s what they do [at Springfield],” said Fry, who is fourth in program history with 283 career tackles. “You don’t just play football there. They teach you how to coach and how to deal with people, not just the Xs and Os.
“The life experience is what’s important. You’re learning day-in and day-out. I don’t think there’s any place like it.”
Fry played high school football at Plymouth/Carver, winning a state championship in 1984 at Foxboro Stadium. After a stellar collegiate career, he stayed two more years at Springfield as a teacher’s assistant and graduate student.
During that time, Fry was brought on as a football assistant with legitimate responsibilities, not just “holding up cards,” he said, adding that it’s unusual for a newly-graduated player to be integrated so quickly.
That time laid the foundation for a successful coaching career that included stops at Princeton, Maine Maritime, and a successful run as coach and eventual athletic director at his alma mater the past 16 years.
To help with tuition, Fry joined the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, where he was eventually promoted to first lieutenant. Spending eight years with the ROTC helped Fry solidify what he learned during his time at Springfield.
“I think it’s all tied together,” said Fry. “Springfield College gave me an unbelievable foundation for discipline and put things in perspective as far as football and life experience. The Army did the same thing, especially with helping me learn about leadership.”
Fry’s grad school roommate, Dan Hunt, coached three years at Springfield after graduating in 1992. He’s now the head coach at Colgate University, signing a five-year contract extension last November after one of the best five-year runs in program history.
Fellow grad school coaches Bob Surace (head coach at Princeton), Jeff Vartabedian (head coach at Wilbraham & Monson Academy) and Dave Patenuade (running backs/special teams coach at Holy Cross) also found success after their time at Springfield College.
And the tradition is carried on today by Fry’s former teammate, Mike Cerasuolo (’93), who is in his fourth year as head coach after succeeding DeLong at his college alma mater.
Morris, who has coached football, wrestling, and boys’ outdoor track at Melrose for more than 30 years, is not surprised to be facing another Springfield alum in the D3 Super Bowl, even if he’s only met Fry in passing at a coaches’ clinic some years ago.
“If you go to Springfield, you’re going to learn the fundamentals that can help you as a coach,” said Morris, who led Melrose to its first state title in 2017. “I’m sure [Fry] learned the same way.”
Morris also had several friends and teammates that went on to prominent coaching roles.
Among them, Grafton native Steve Spagnuolo, who has spent 20 years coaching in the NFL and is currently the defensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs. Their former teammate, Dave Toub, is in his 20th NFL season as a special teams coach, and is also currently on the Chiefs staff.
Morris is good friends with Tim Murphy, who is in his 26th season as head coach at Harvard. New Bedford native Glenn Pires also played with Morris at Springfield College before spending one season as an assistant at Melrose. Pires went on to coach for 13 seasons at the college level and 24 seasons in the NFL.
“There’s certainly emphasis on learning how to coach [at SC],” said Morris. “Some of the best coaches in the country at all levels came out of Springfield College. It’s definitely a factory for coaches.”
Morris led Melrose to Super Bowl appearances in 2014 and 2015, but the Red Raiders fell to Dartmouth in both games. He said each trip to Gillette Stadium helped his staff eventually break through in 2017 with a 21-0 win over Nashoba for the D4 title.
“Every year we went [to Gillette], you got more valuable experience,” said Morris. “By the third time, you knew a lot more.”
“The clock is different, the hashes are different, and you better be quick at halftime.”
Fry also took his team to the Super Bowl in 2013, the first year of the new MIAA playoff format. The Panthers fell, 42-14, in the D3 final against Tewksbury, but Fry said the experience will prepare his players for the grandeur of a Super Bowl game at Gillette.
“The first year, it was more of a shock-and-awe situation,” said Fry. “This time will be as well, but I’ll know what to expect.”
With the support of several former teammates and fellow coaches, Fry will look to do his alma mater proud. Either way, a Springfield College alum will hoist the D4 championship trophy.
“It’s kind of one big family, and we have great things to say about each other,” Fry said of the Springfield alums in coaching. “I was just lucky enough to go to [Springfield] and learn how to become a coach.”
Nate Weitzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.