Call it a comeback

He was an as­sist­ant at North­east High from 1998-2008. Now, Phil Gorm­ley is back on the Vik­ings grid­iron. And this time he's run­ning the show. 

He’s back: Phil Gorm­ley, a former foot­ball as­sist­ant at North­east High School, re­turns as the Vik­ings’ head coach after spend­ing the last two sea­sons as head coach at Jen­k­in­town High School. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHO­TOS

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.” ••

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