They never planned on getting rich and in that they were successful. But even though it won’t help them buy a new car, they do walk away rich in the knowledge that they had a positive and lasting impact on thousands of young lives. They won a lot of football games along the way, too.
George Kosanovich retired as coach of the Concord High football team this week, ending a career that lasted 44 years at three schools. And he retired about a month after Joe Hemphill retired as coach of the St. Elizabeth High team after 42 years. Both men were high school lifers who toiled for decades, usually with little fanfare, and ended up among the all-time Delaware leaders in games coached and friends won.
Neither Kosanovich nor Hemphill worked at football factories, although they turned every program they coached into a consistent winner. And they did it with a consistent approach: There’s a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things and we’re going to do it the right way. Neither man ever wavered from that standard, on or off the field.
These are not guys who aspired to be head coach at some big-time college or in the NFL. They wouldn’t have minded making the money those coaches pull in every year, but early in their careers they discovered a special satisfaction in working with boys and helping to turn them into men. They also loved football and the special challenges and camaraderie that go along with being part of a team sport.
To coaches like these two, there was nothing more rewarding than having all those diverse, ever-changing pieces come together and work together toward common goals. They delighted in seeing young men become responsible and accountable and took a quiet pride in their roles in that development. That, more than wins and losses, is the scorecard by which high school coaches should be judged, by the life-long lessons they teach. Nobody has taught those lessons better than George Kosanovich and Joe Hemphill.
And nobody did it more. Hemphill coached more games (430) than any high school coach in Delaware history and Kosanovich is tied with Bob Tattersall of Friends – another lifer – for second place, with 425.
And they did it well — Kosanovich and Hemphill each won three state championships and were contenders many other times. And that’s not easy to do on the high school level. In the NFL, a coach can have the same players for a decade and he can draft and sign the players he wants. College coaches have a similar turnover in personnel as high school coaches have, but they can recruit the players they want and the players who fit the system they play.
Kosanovich always coached at public schools – Wilmington, McKean and Concord – and he always had to play the hand that was dealt to him. Some years he got aces and other years he got deuces, but he almost always ended up with a winning hand.
Hemphill had to deal with the fact that St. Elizabeth was always behind Salesianum and St. Mark’s when it came to attracting the top players who wanted to go to a Catholic school. But, like Kosanovich, he got the most out of his talent and also instilled the necessary qualities of hard work and sacrifice that last long after the kids stop playing football.
George Kosanovich and Joe Hemphill didn’t care what the kids were like when they got them, but they cared very much what they were like when they left them. And that was almost always as better players and better people.