While serving as the head football coach at Jenkintown High School the last two seasons, Phil Gormley couldn’t help but feel drawn to his past.
Now that his past and present have collided, he couldn’t be happier.
Gormley was named the new head football coach at Northeast High School back in April and is busy planning for his first season as the Vikings’ head coach, with the school’s season set to kick off Aug. 30 at Neshaminy. But he’s not exactly a fresh face at Northeast.
No, Gormley has been here before, serving as a Northeast assistant from 1998-2008, the latter half of that tenure under former Vikings boss/close friend and longtime collaborator Mel Hinton. In those 10 years, Gormley helped guide the Vikings to five appearances in the Public League title game. Northeast came up short in all of those contests, and one of Gormley’s goals for this season is to get the school, which last won a league championship under former head coach (and current athletic director) Chris Riley in 2010, back competing for the top prize with Pub stalwarts George Washington and Frankford.
“To be honest, I’ve always had interest in this job,” said Gormley, who replaces Jim Adams, who resigned after one season as head coach. “We had a relative amount of success when I was here before, and I’d just like to get the program back to the point where we can get a bite out of that apple every year, so to speak. We want these kids to succeed in the classroom so they can get to college, and we want them to get back to the point where the team can be competitive with good kids who can be successful when they graduate.”
Gormley isn’t exactly inheriting a terrible situation, not after the Vikings posted a 7-5 overall record under Adams, including a first-round playoff win before falling to Frankford in the semis. However, Northeast was gutted by graduation, losing a large amount of its senior leaders, including star quarterback Daquan Bohannan, two top receivers in Shimeek Carter and Devon Dillard (both also played defensive back), OL/LB Shahir Gates, two-way lineman Bernard Houston and Eastern Michigan signee David Pulliam, among others.
In fact, when pressed to name his top returning players, Gormley said just four seniors could have immediate impacts, with the rest of the roster being young and unknown. Those four are David Pulliam’s brother, Anthony, a two-way lineman; Michael Coleman, a linebacker/defensive end hybrid; OL/DL William Okrafo, who had a monster game on defense in last year’s Thanksgiving victory over Central; and Natwan Curtis, a receiver and defensive back.
“I’ve been super happy with these guys so far,” Gormley said of the aforementioned seniors. “We’ve had them in here three days a week this summer running and working out, and I expect them all to make an impact. Everyone else, we’ll see what happens when the helmets get strapped on. Anyone can look good in a T-shirt and shorts.”
Despite being at Jenkintown the last two seasons (where he posted an 8-10 overall record), Gormley called himself a Public League guy at heart. In fact, Gormley said he was asked by friends and colleagues if he was going to apply for the previously vacant head coaching position at Father Judge, which ultimately was awarded to former Judge quarterback Mike McKay.
“I didn’t have any interest in applying,” Gormley said. “Don’t get me wrong, that Judge job is a great one, one of the best around. I’ve just always been a Pub guy. It’s where I’m comfortable, and there’s no reason why we can’t build something special here. The facilities and the kids here are great. In this city, there’s no better job, as far as I’m concerned.”
Gormley may be a bit biased based on past experience, but that’s OK with Northeast. In what has amounted to a revolving door of head coaches the last few years at the school, Northeast is hoping Gormley can restore some stability to a historic, proud program.
It sure won’t be easy.
For starters, the status of the season — and the 2013-14 school year in general — is currently up in the air given the disastrous financial state of the School District of Philadelphia, which is facing a muddled future with way more questions than answers at the moment.
If there is a season, it still won’t be a walk in the park, as the Vikings are faced with a tremendously difficult schedule. After an exhibition against Roman Catholic, Northeast will travel to two suburban powers, Neshaminy and Council Rock North. Then, they’ll return home for a clash with Judge before opening the Public League slate with reigning champ Frankford.
“If there’s a tougher schedule out there, I haven’t seen it,” Gormley said. “If we can get through those games and just focus on getting better each week and mature as we go, I think we’ll be OK once we get to the Public League portion of the schedule.”
Gormley, a longtime teacher in the school district at Baldi Middle School, says the secret for success at Northeast should be a simple one. In order to win and win consistently in this league, Northeast must continue to attract “the neighborhood kids,” as Gormley called them, local student-athletes who choose to enroll at Northeast instead of defecting to Judge or Archbishop Wood or George Washington, among others. He even pointed out the recent turnaround Archbishop Ryan has had under Frank McArdle, a Ryan alum who has an entire roster full of neighborhood kids.
“You know why kids want to go play for Ron Cohen at Washington?” Gormley asked. “Because he wins. I have a lot of respect for Ron, because he’s built a great program that kids want to be a part of. We’ve got to get back to that model.”
In terms of what to be excited about, Gormley had plenty to say. For starters, he can’t wait for the annual Turkey Day game with Central, one of the oldest continuous Thanksgiving rivalries in the country, dating back to 1892. He spoke volumes about the long-standing rivalries within the Public League as well as having such a large student body that produces many interested players; in fact, Gormley estimated 60-70 have shown up so far in summer workouts, which is not all that much less than Jenkintown’s entire male enrollment.
In terms of what fans and alumni should expect from him, Gormley kept it basic.
“We’ll strive to block and tackle the best, so you could say I’m the anti-[Philadelphia Eagles head coach] Chip Kelly,” he said. “The team that does those two things best, wins. In terms of long term goals: One, we want to make sure the kids are successful in the classroom; two, we want to get them eligible to go to college; and three, we want them to win.”
And what of that seemingly never-ending revolving coaching door at Northeast?
“I have 13 years until retirement,” Gormley said. “So as long as they want me around, I’ll be here.” ••