By Jim Hunter
The scene after the Steelers clinched the Meadville Little Gridders championship on Saturday with an unblemished 6-0 record was priceless:
Head coach Dan Ogello — his voice cracking a few times — giving enthusiastic individual speeches to his players; and assistant coach Terry Henry, age 63, singing and dancing to the Steelers’ victory song.
It’s a shame Ogello and Henry will not be around next season.
In a joint package deal set at the conclusion of last year, Ogello and Henry — with a combined 72 years of coaching experience in the Little Gridders program — agreed the 2012 season would be their last.
In between games Saturday, Ogello and Henry were presented with plaques from the Little Gridders Board of Directors (Alan Pepicelli, Steve Kightlinger and Jim Hilson).
“It’s time for the younger men to lead the way,” said Henry, who was a head coach for 17 years and Ogello’s top assistant the last 12. The Ogello-Henry tandem led the Steelers to six championships.
“It’s going to be real tough when next year rolls around,” added the 60-year-old Ogello, who won approximately 17 championships in his 40 years as head coach.
Ogello’s decision to retire is mainly commute related. Seven years ago, Ogello moved to Cortland, Ohio, and has traveled back-and-forth four days a week to lead his troops.
“As I said before, I would coach Little Gridders until I die,” he said, “but, this late in the year, it’s dark on my way back to Cortland and the deer is out.”
Ogello was afraid his wife, Darla, wouldn’t let him continue with his passionate connection to the Little Gridders program.
“When I married Darla seven years ago, I told her I can’t stop coaching these kids and she had no problem with it,” he said.
It was evident on Saturday that Ogello’s passion for the game hasn’t mellowed in 40 years. If anything, it might have gotten stronger.
When his tailback Nick Rinella (remember this name, folks!) broke loose for a 42-yard touchdown scamper for the Steelers’ first touchdown, Ogello was nearly step-for-step with him racing down the left sideline.
Ogello’s age again? Sixty.
Ogello and Henry also wanted to end their careers with a perfect record.
The upset-minded 49ers nearly spoiled their plan. But, the offensive-minded Ogello stunned the 49ers with one of his trick plays.
Knotted at 14-14 with 1:50 left in game, Ogello called an option pass. And quarterback Nick Frantz tossed a 19-yard completion to Rinella to get the ball to the 49ers’ 4.
Rinella — a very promising young athlete — sealed the Steelers’ unbeaten season with a four-yard touchdown run 17 seconds later.
Ogello and Henry wouldn’t have wanted it any other way — a last-minute, game-winning touchdown drive.
It was time for Henry to start singing and dancing.
Ogello only had high praise for his top assistant the last 12 years.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better top assistant coach than Terry. We worked really well together and he was the crazy coach for the kids.”
Uttering Ogello’s same words, Henry also said, “I’m really going to miss it a lot next year.”
Ogello had a message for his players during his celebration speech: ”I told the kids that I’ll be sitting in the stands next year relaxed and eating popcorn.”
Ogello relaxed while watching his Steelers play? Think again.