By Rob Parent, Delaware County Daily Times
February 11, 2010
Paul Graham at Penncrest. Dan Ellis at Springfield. Ray Gionta at Marple Newtown.
A head coach he knows with a very successful program, a head coach that beat him out for a job three years earlier, and a head coach who was Shull’s head coach nearly 20 years ago.
“I knew I wanted to get back to coaching,” said Shull, 36, an assistant coach almost since graduating from a four-year career at Lycoming, until making the decision to take a break from it more than two years ago. “I was ready to get back into it.”
What Shull missed most, he said, was the challenge. While that once was limited to whatever unit he was responsible for as an assistant, Shull now finds himself with a little more responsibility – turning around a once-proud football program that has fallen on hard times.
Shull’s search to get back in the game – a single father, he’d taken off for two seasons to spend more time with his son, now a 10-year-old player — landed him at Chichester, a smallish school that used to play big on the gridiron.
But a program with hardly any victorious thrills in recent seasons. Those people in the Delaware County football coaching community that Shull kept calling? Suffice to say they had various opinions on his landing spot.
“When everybody heard I was going back to that program, they thought it was nuts,” Shull said. He knew better. Or at least that’s what he keeps telling himself.
Shull knows football was once king at Chi. He even spent two years there as an assistant coach in the early 2000s, after spending five years at Marple Newtown and before spending three years at Springfield.
Certainly declining enrollments have affected some of the smaller high schools in the county’s river townships and boroughs. You can see how the Del Val League has been negatively affected by economic downturns and the impact in recent years of losing football programs like Oxford and Sun Valley (now in the Ches-Mont League) and Garnet Valley and Harriton (now in the Central League). Glen Mills was out of the league for football for years, too, until returning two seasons ago.
But that didn’t help ease the pain of Chi’s 0-12 record last season, and a one-win 2008. Nothing of which, Shull insists, has to do with 2010.
He believes a rapid resurrection can happen at Chi for the same reason he went there as an assistant coach – for all their problems on the football field in recent years, the Eagles can boast of a showcase full of championship trophies. The tradition can be unearthed, Shull says.
“I’m hoping to instill some discipline and bring back the football mentality here,” said Shull, an All-Delco linebacker in 1990 for Gionta at St. James, the Catholic high school which still stands in Chester but no longer exists. “I really believe we can do that at Chi.”
Shull freely admits that for all his enthusiasm, he wasn’t the school’s first option. That was one of Shull’s old colleagues, Scott Green. One year Shull’s junior, Green played with Shull at St. James and coached with him at Marple Newtown.
Green, a top assistant at Garnet Valley the past four years, declined Chi’s offer and opted for the head coaching position at Kennett High School, a smaller program that plays in that refurbished Ches-Mont.
Kennett only began its varsity football program in 2004 but has built new athletic facilities and will benefit from the huge growth still anticipated in Chester County. Though Green was an Upper Chichester native and still lives in the area, he went where the day job was offered — Chi was not going to offer him any kind of teaching position.
“They were looking for somebody who wasn’t a teacher; they had nothing available,” said Green, who is in the process of receiving his certification in special education. “Bobby is an accountant and knows those kids and he’s really committed. He was a great player and has always been a really good coach. I know he’ll really do well there.”
Both Shull and Green credited Gionta for instilling in them the coaching spark. When they were at Marple, they served under head coach Pat Clark, now with Unionville … and a St. James alum.
“Playing for those guys (Gionta and St. James predecessor Marty Moke), it wasn’t just football,” Shull said. “They treated their players like family.”
If it sounds like cliché, so be it. Shull can use such talk as a tool for the rather daunting rebuilding job that lies ahead. It’s not like he’s wasting his time…
The just-hired Shull took his first move quite literally — last week, he moved into a house in Upper Chichester, just several blocks from the school.
“I bought the house first,” Shull said with a laugh.
But he’s moving right in. Reached on his cell phone on a snowy Wednesday afternoon, Shull wasn’t outside his new house with shovel in hand. Instead, he was inside writing letters to eighth-graders in the district, encouraging them to sign on for the high school football team when registration rolls around.
Bob Shull made a decision to get back into coaching football. Some might think he’s in for more than he bargained for … he figured he should get started right away proving the naysayers wrong.