The DC Touchdown Club Circle of Legends is comprised of local coaches whose impact on the game and their players is, simply put, nothing short of legendary. These extraordinary leaders are known for their work both on and off the field, and for influencing the lives of countless former players.
Lefty Driesell always knew he wanted to be a coach. As a second grader, his family moved into a house just down the street from Granby High in Norfolk. Young Lefty wandered over to the school one afternoon to watch football practice.
“Hey boy,” Granby football coach Bill Story called over. “You want to be a manager?”
Of course Driesell did. And since Story also was the school’s basketball and baseball coach, Lefty was the manager for those teams as well until he got to high school.
“I was always around sports,” Driesell said. “Went to the pregame meals, practices, pregame talks, halftime talks. I was around that all my life.”
Driesell was a heck of a basketball player, leading Granby to a state title as a senior and earning a scholarship to play for Duke University. After graduating, he worked for the Ford Motor Company, before jumping at the opportunity to be Granby’s JV basketball and football coach. He had to talk his wife Joyce into letting him accept the job, which came with a pay cut. In order to earn more money, Driesell sold World Book encyclopedias during the summer.
“I think that helped me in coaching,” Driesell said. “I sold more encyclopedias than anyone in Virginia.”
Driesell did not win the Oldsmobile that World Book was raffling off to its salespersons – one entry for each set sold -- but the ability to sell himself came in handy a few years later when Driesell became a college coach.
After success at Granby and then Newport News High, Driesell was hired as the basketball coach at Davidson College, where he took the Wildcats to national prominence and three conference titles. In 1969, he was hired at Maryland, where he led the Terrapins to eight NCAA tournament appearances and had four consecutive seasons in which the team reached No. 2 in the Associated Press rankings.
Subsequently, he coached at James Madison and Georgia State. He was named the conference coach of the year at each of the four universities. Georgia State named its court in Driesell’s honor. He had an all-time record of 786-394 at the collegiate level.
“I built up everywhere I went,” Driesell said. “
Throughout his career, Driesell was known as a dogged recruiter and shrewd marketer. He is credited with creating Midnight Madness to start preseason practice at Maryland. He once placed a “Wanted” advertisement in The Washington Post targeting top Washington-area high school players that he was recruiting. And his “V” for victory gesture remains well known.
After completing his football playing career and then graduating from West Chester State College outside Philadelphia in 1970, Doug DuVall had a plan. A native of Columbia, Md., DuVall secured a graduate assistant coaching position back in his home state at the University of Maryland and began work toward a master’s degree.
The Terrapins’ head coach was Jerry Claiborne. The other graduate assistant coach was Ralph Friedgen.
“It was big fun,” DuVall said, rattling off a few anecdotes.
After one year, DuVall looked forward to one last year of school, finishing his graduate degree and then moving on toward his goal of becoming a high school football coach.
But it was on a vacation to Europe that summer that DuVall’s life would forever change. He had left an intinerary with his parents and said they could reach him at the airport if necessary. Lo and behold, as he checked in to fly home, DuVall heard his name being paged. He feared bad news.
Whether the news was bad or good was open to interpretation. DuVall learned that his coach at Howard High, Frank Rhodes, had signed up DuVall to be the new football coach at Wilde Lake High in Columbia, Md.
“I had seen Wilde Lake play the year before against Howard and they lost 62-3. [Ralph and I] were leaving and I said, ‘That might be the worst football team I ever saw,’ ” DuVall said. “Now I’m in London and listening to the fact I might be coaching this team! But it turned out pretty good.”
Yes, it did. DuVall, who forged a reputation for always wearing shorts on the sidelines, coached the Wildecats for 36 seasons. His teams won 20 Howard County titles, five Maryland state championships and he retired after the 2008 season with 308 victories, which still ranks as the third-most in state history.
Today, DuVall operates a fishing charter boat on the Chesapeake Bay and occasionally works as a high school football analyst.
Growing up in Johnstown, Pa., Al Thomas always knew what he wanted to do with his life. He played defensive end at Indiana State Teachers College (now known as Indiana University of Pennsylvania) and as he neared graduation, a representative of Montgomery County Public Schools visited campus on a recruiting trip, hoping to lure some new teachers to the school district.
“I was lucky,” Thomas said. “The first job I had was at Gaithersburg High School, which was a very good football school and everything came together.”
In all, Thomas spent 10 years as an assistant to the legendary John Harvill at Gaithersburg before being hired as the coach at Seneca Valley when that school opened in Germantown. It didn’t take long for the Thomas’s coaching career to take off.
In 1975, without a senior class, the Screamin’ Eagles went 6-4. The next two years, finally with a full roster, Seneca Valley went undefeated and won state championships. That 1977 team allowed only six points all season, when Gaithersburg returned a fumble for a touchdown. But since the Screamin’ Eagles blocked the point-after kick, Thomas still notes that his team’s defense did not allow a single point all season.
Thomas’s coaching career then took a few turns, as he moved first to Damascus High to coach his son, Marc, and then to Cambridge-South Dorchester High on the Eastern Shore, where he worked as an assistant coach so he could watch Marc play quarterback at Salisbury State. There was a stint as the defensive coordinator at Western Maryland College and finally a few seasons as the head coach at Sherwood.
Along the way, Thomas left his mark, creating a new unique nickname at each head coaching stop. Seneca Valley was the Screamin’ Eagles, Damascus became the Swarmin’ Hornets and Sherwood the Stormin’ Warriors. He also left a mark in the record books. With five state titles in 14 seasons at Seneca Valley, two more at Damascus and one at Sherwood, Thomas’s eight state titles are tied with Bob Milloy for the most ever for one coach in Maryland high school football history.
“I always liked the competition,” Thomas said “Getting the kids ready. Winning. Losing. It’s what I did. But as a high school coach, I never experienced a losing season, even as an assistant. I was pretty lucky, always at good places.”
Upon being hired as the head football coach at Richard Montgomery High School in 1959, Roy Lester considered himself lucky. For starters, as he looked at prospective members of his team, Lester saw plenty of faces – which was far from the case at his first coaching position, where he had just 14 players on the team. And then, he noted, the team had plenty of talented players, including future NFLer Mike Curtis.
“When I went to Richard Montgomery, they hadn’t been winning anything,” Lester said. “I took [former Maryland players Rod] Breedlove and Ronnie Shaffer over with me in the preseason to help me out. They looked things over and said, ‘You’ll never win here.’ But I told them there was a kid there better than any player we had at Maryland – Mike Curtis. That’s luck.”
Leaning on Curtis, Richard Montgomery went undefeated in Lester’s first two seasons. Curtis went on to Duke University and was selected to the Pro Bowl four times in 14 NFL seasons, but Lester and Richard Montgomery continued their successful ways without their star. In all, Lester guided the Rockets to an 86-10-1 mark with six undefeated seasons before being hired as the head coach at the University of Maryland.
Following three seasons in College Park, Lester returned to the high school sidelines. He guided Paint Branch to the 1975 Class B state championship and he led Magruder to the Class B state championship in 1984 and the Class A state championship in 1986.
In 1984, the Touchdown Club of Washington selected Lester as its high school coach of the year. Lester’s high school teams won 260 games. Lester is a member of Maryland Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the West Virginia University Sports Hall of Fame. Richard Montgomery named its athletic field Roy Lester Stadium.
“I think I had a good background,” Lester said. “Before I came to Montgomery County, I had coached in a couple impossible situations. I always studied the game close wherever I was and I enjoyed it. I didn’t mind working hard to get it.”
After the final game of his 36-year career as the head coach of the Georgetown Prep Little Hoyas, Jim Fegan insisted on business as usual. Sportsmanship was important to the man who was hired at the North Bethesda school in 1961 and turned it into a football powerhouse. Before any celebration, his players had to shake hands with their opponents.
Only then could the players hoist Fegan on their shoulders as the student body chanted: “Thank you, Mr. Fegan.”
When talking about Fegan’s career, perhaps the best way to sum things up is that he did it the right way. His teams had a record of 239-62-12, capturing 14 Interstate Athletic Conference championships with only two losing seasons. The 1970 team finished No. 1 in the Washington area in the midst of a 36-game winning streak that spanned five seasons. There were nine unbeaten seasons.
Throughout his tenure, Fegan maintained his trademark crew cut. But he was known for adapting to his surroundings, while at the same time retaining his strong work ethic and discipline. To this day, he remains as assistant athletic director and assistant football coach at Georgetown Prep.
"He teaches the best way any teacher can, by example," Reverend Thomas Roach, S.J., then-president of Georgetown Prep, told The Washington Post when Fegan retired. "By his attitudes toward his opponents. His attitudes when winning. His attitudes when losing. He's very demanding and exacting on the field, but right after the game he embraces his family. He talks to the kids a lot about sportsmanship. He's at mass every day. Young people look to us for cues, and we've been fortunate to have him at our school."
Joe Gallagher had a simple philosophy when it came to coaching: Be firm, but fair. He also had some clever sayings, as noted in a Washington Post story when he turned 90 a few years back:
- “You win some, you lose some and some you should have never scheduled.”
- “Never send a kid home from practice unhappy.”
- “I might have lost the game, but I’ve never lost a party.”
Of course, Joe Gallagher did not lose many games. He coached the St. John’s College High School football team from 1947 to 1967, guiding the Cadets to a 171-32-10 record and a remarkable eight City Titles. And he was well known for his success as a basketball coach, with a record of 870-292 in 44 seasons before retiring in 1991.
Gallagher also is known for giving Morgan Wootten his first job as a high school coach, plucking Wootten from his position coaching at an orphanage and hiring him to be the St. John’s junior varsity football and basketball coach. The two later combined forces and started the first basketball day camp, the Metropolitan Area Basketball School. Gallagher is in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame after receiving the Morgan Wootten Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.
Perhaps no person is better known as the public face of a school in the Washington area than Willie Stewart. For 29 seasons, he was the head football coach at Anacostia, turning the Southeast Washington school into a perennial contender in the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association.
But in addition to seeing former players go on to pro careers or turn into coaches, Stewart took pride in some simple achievements. In one of the city’s roughest neighborhoods, he was a father figure for hundreds of players and longed to see them better themselves. Twenty of his former players made it to the NFL or Canadian Football League, including All-Pro linebacker Cato June.
“Just being able to help those young men is fun for me,” he told NFL Films, which was drawn to the school to share Stewart’s story. “If I can change [or] turn a kid around or help a coach get better, so be it.”
Stewart first became a head coach at Eastern in 1976. He moved to Anacostia for the 1981 season and remained the head coach until 2009. In all, Stewart’s teams made 13 appearances in the Turkey Bowl, winning seven. Perhaps his most trying season came in 1993, when Stewart guided the Indians to a runner-up finish in the DCIAA. Four of his players were shot in separate incidents that season; the following year, he was presented the Giant Step Award for individuals or organizations who exemplify the ideals and provide the support necessary for student-athletes to achieve academic and athletic success.
“You can’t save everybody, but, believe me, I try,” Stewart said at the time.
In 2012, Anacostia named its football stadium after Stewart and he is there many Friday nights during the football season, serving as a volunteer assistant coach.