Back for a third season is the popular Intelligencer/Courier Times ‘Let’s Talk Football,’ featuring high school football beat writers Kevin Cooney and Dan Dunkin. Cooney, the Phillies beat writer, covers schools in the Intelligencer area while Dan Dunkin – who has been covering sports at the high school and professional level for 25 years - will cover teams in the Courier Times area. Both share their perspective on the teams in their coverage area. To stay on top of the high school football news in the area, visit the web site http://www.phillyburbs.com/sports/high_school/
SuburbanOneSports.com: You’ve been covering the week’s biggest story about the one-week suspension of Neshaminy coach Mark Schmidt. Share your perspective on that situation.
Dan Dunkin: “The father of the kid who was in the center of this controversy wrote a long, impassioned letter that I have, and he went out of his way to support Schmidt. What’s the school district spending five days on this for? Will you explain that to me? The Neshaminy School District is as rudderless as the Exxon Valdez.
“It’s an outrageous joke what transpired the last few days over a trivial ‘incident.’ It’s an absolute joke, and Neshaminy’s administrators ought to be ashamed of themselves. Mark Schmidt has been there 18 years, and while he is volatile and in your face - well, so is the game of football. Good luck to them trying to find another coach as good as this guy. To get called on the carpet for this is outrageous, and to drag it out for five days is such a disservice to the kids and the rest of that loyal coaching staff and to a great Neshaminy football nation of devoted people and their storied tradition. It’s ridiculous. What the hell are they doing?
“With them making such a big deal out of this, it infers that they may be looking at his controversial body of work, things like yelling at players - give me a break; it's football! Things that have popped up in the past and the administrators are adding it all up. If I was Schmidt, I would be tired of it. He doesn’t need it, the kids don’t need it, his staff doesn’t need it, and the fans don’t need it. They ought to go out and get their teacher contract done after four years.
“As a reporter, I know people don’t care about our problems, but I want to tell you something – you go out of your way to make a guy look bad and tear down 18 years and do that, and then you go run and hide from your neighborhood newspaper. They all ran and hid. Virtually no one will talk for the record, and that tells you a lot about those people. They don’t even have the cojones, or sense of fairness and balance, to put anything behind a comment in the newspaper. Please. These people are a joke.
“Football-wise I think the Neshaminy kids will respond in a big way. I really do. I think they’re angry, and they ought to be, and they’ll take it out on Bensalem. Neil French, Steve Wilmont and those guys do a great job. They’ve been together a long time, and they’re on the same page. I’ll tell your what – Schmidt is a great motivator, and this will be a big fuse to light down the stretch. Look out for this team. It’s going to help them. I think they’re going to play for their coach, their staff, their school and the people who care about them. Those intangibles go a long way in football.
SuburbanOneSports.com: Bensalem, after struggling in its loss to Council Rock North, will be taking on Neshaminy this week. Your thoughts about Bensalem.
Dan Dunkin: “I had higher hopes for Bensalem early. With their passing game and their ability to be physical and run between the tackles and they have some speed – they hung in there and beat Pennridge, which really looks like a quality win after Pennridge has stood up well in the Continental Conference and beat CB South, so they’re very capable. They still have three games to salvage.
“In the second year of Kevin Kelly’s tenure here, he wanted to see them take another step. They have a lot of young players. They lost over 20 seniors last year, so I think they’ve struggled at times to really learn how to win. They’ve had some defensive letdowns, they’ve had some tough second halves. Bensalem can play tough and play with attitude and they will absolutely need to in this game, because Neshaminy, after all that's happened this week and with a playoff spot on the line the last three weeks, is really going to bring it. Neshaminy is a big test for them anyway because they’re multi-dimensional on offense.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Council Rock North, which is coming off a shutout of Bensalem, will be playing Pennsbury on Friday. Your thoughts about that game.
Dan Dunkin: “Rock North’s defense is playing really well. They’re going to have to play great to be in the game and have a chance to beat Pennsbury. I think it will be an interesting game to see where CR North is, especially defensively. They played a lot better lately, similar to last year where they played really good defensively the last half of the season. They have a really experienced group that’s hungry.
“They need to run the table these last three games to make the playoffs. They need a signature win, and that’s Pennsbury. It’s going to be really difficult, but they are a fresher defense now. They don’t have guys playing two ways anymore, and it’s helped their defensive vitality. Their strength is their front four, and their front seven has been playing really good. They need to prevent Pennsbury’s big play because the big play by Pennsbury is an added element this year to their methodical, demoralizing 15-play drives with their running game. Now Shawn Pepper can explode for 50 yards at any time, and so can a couple of their other guys. If North can muck the game up and keep Pennsbury from the big play, withstand a couple of long drives and force a field goal or get a field goal and keep it a low-scoring game, they’ve got a shot in this game because they now have the offensive capability. Their terrific freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain and enough speed and gifted skill position guys give them a chance. AJ Nielson is a very valuable all-around back. They have the capability, but they can’t get into a track meet or a shootout. Their defense is going to have to key everything and keep Pennsbury reasonably contained. Rock North is clearly the underdog, but they’re playing at home after a lot of away games. Their crowd is going to be revved up. It’s a real chance for them to play up to their potential defensively in that game.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: One of the interesting games in the National Conference is Council Rock South at Abington. What are your thoughts about that game?
Dan Dunkin: “Beating Abington is not an impossible task for Council Rock South. I think they have developed some confidence the last couple of weeks. They have continued to play hard the entire season regardless of the score. Some of their young players like Tyler Anderson have really stepped up. Christian Crane, a senior running back, is having a fine season. They routed Truman, and they played Neshaminy really tough and only lost 21-14, and that was something to build on. I think they’re building some confidence now. Vince Bedesem has really emphasized to them the rivalry of each of these last three games that they’ve built over the years – Abington, William Tennent and, of course, Council Rock North. There’s a lot to play for even though they’re out of the playoffs. These kids have pride, and this program under Vince and his staff has a lot of pride. I look for them to really be competitive in these last three games, starting with this one. They have some size on Abington, and if they can execute, they have a better than 50 percent chance of winning this game. Abington has kind of been fluctuating. You can pound them. Maybe South can get its running game going and control the ball a little bit better and not have to play from behind like they’ve had to do so much of the season. Mentally, they’re in a lot better place than they were a few weeks ago. They’re starting to see results for their persistence.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: As someone who covered Neshaminy football for years, what are your thoughts regarding that situation?
Kevin Cooney: “There are several things at play here. One, this sounds like it is more than just an issue about one sideline incident. This sounds like there’s politics at play here. Maybe there are some people in the administration that don’t care for Mark Schmidt. It could be a product, quite frankly, of the whole teacher union versus administration deal. I think there’s something going on besides what we’re hearing. It’s clear this was not a one incident thing. There’s something else politically that is at play here. To me, that is one portion, and I don’t know if we’ll ever know how much that came into play, but when you look at the scale of what happened, I think that’s something you have to keep in mind. That’s certainly not saying there’s a criminal thing but something like a personality clash or a power play.
“I think it speaks of the chaos in that school district right now. We’ve mentioned the teacher contract issue that’s dragged on three or four years now. I know Rome wasn’t built in a day, but if the Neshaminy school board and teachers were involved, the Coliseum would still have an ‘under construction’ sign on it. It’s at a point where responsible adults have to step up and take charge and for adults to act like adults. I don’t know if there’s a leader in this group. It’s a rudderless ship, and it’s not just football. Look at what happened to the basketball assistant coaches last year who were let go because they refused to cross the picket line. Other coaches have been let go in the past year or two for various reasons. There’s no sense of PR understanding. There’s something really missing here. We take for granted sometimes what good leadership at a school can do. It helps morale. This reeks more of a political struggle than an actual misstep on Mark’s part. In my mind, it’s ridiculous it got to this point, and it’s ridiculous that this became public.
“The second thing that I think that is important about this incident is that you’re basically now acknowledging that the way that things are for coaches these days have changed from what they were five years ago, 10 years ago and 15 years ago. That’s maybe part of the thing with Mark, and he said it in his statement on Wednesday that the term ‘old-school’ might have to be re-evaluated. Ultimately, does Mark have to change his ways going forward if he wants to remain at Neshaminy? I think that’s pretty clear. If he was on a low tolerance policy before, it’s a zero tolerance now.
“In my opinion, it probably would be best for both parties to go their separate ways at the end of the year. Mark will get another coaching job. There’s no doubt in my mind that if Mark wants to, he will find another coaching job. He may take a year off, but he’s got a good enough reputation and good enough name that he will find something. Being around the Neshaminy program for a number of years, Mark has built a tremendous loyalty among his group. I’ve seen it up close, and he cares about those kids a lot. Is it different than a lot of coaches? Yes, but you can tell he cares about his kids. He gets so into it because of his passion. I think it’s a passion for his kids to get better, I think it’s a passion to win. He’s a good competitor. You don’t win a state title without being a real good competitor. This is a mixed message kind of thing. I think parting ways is better than having Mark always looking over his shoulder at what may be behind him and people who maybe don’t want him any more. I think it would be better for Mark to coach the rest of the season and then decide to go elsewhere. That would be my advice.
“If I’m the Neshaminy school board, I really have to consider what the hell we’re doing. Look, I’m not a political animal. I’m not someone who likes to get on a political high horse and all that, but this district has had so much trouble with the teacher contracts and with the coaches. For them to bungle this entire thing public relations-wise – and it was brutal – speaks to the problems they have there as an administration. It almost goes to a vote of no-confidence in who is in charge there because, quite frankly, this should have been handled Saturday or Sunday. This should not have gone on until Wednesday night. It should not have hit the papers in dribs and drabs or created a rumor-fest. What you’ve done is you’ve put a guy out there and you’ve basically prosecuted him for a capital crime in the media and then charged him with a misdemeanor. If I was someone in the school district, I would be furious right now. I would really be looking for what the hell is going on in a school district that for years has been a model and was a very good school district but over the last four or five years has completely gone off the tracks in administration.
“For other coaches, I think we’re seeing a re-affirmation on conduct. There are a few out there who could run into similar type problems down the road. There are few whose language is a little salty, maybe they grab a facemask or jump in the kid’s face. You can’t do that any more. The rules have apparently been set where you can’t do that any more. Is it right? I think maybe we’ve gone overboard. We’ve gone from too forgiving to too prosecutal. The law of common sense has to apply here, and it clearly wasn’t applied in this case."
SuburbanOneSports.com: Pennridge made things interesting in the Continental Conference with its win over Central Bucks South on Friday. What are your thoughts after seeing that game?
Kevin Cooney: “Let’s boil it down to the simple things. I declared it the other night the year of chaos, and it is. For Pennridge that was a great win. They needed a win like that, and you give a lot of credit to its defense. You look at Micah Stutzman, you look at a couple of other guys there who found a way to get the job done, especially in the second half. I think the one thing that happened in that game was that CB South got a little too predictable. What I mean by that is – the week before Josh Adams was shut down by North Penn. They moved guys up in the box designed to shut down Adams, and North Penn did a good job with that. What you saw Pennridge do after they moved extra guys up to the line – they took away the over-the-top pattern, and John Pileggi was forced to throw into more congestion than North Penn gave them. Quite frankly, Pennridge’s defensive backs have just played better. Stutzman was great on Steve Veal. He only had one catch. Cale Mosher didn’t do much. He was never wide open. The passes Pileggi hit the other week, which were kind of just toss-ups and prayers – he wasn’t able to connect on, so you have to give Pennridge’s defense a lot of credit.
“That being said, what we saw out of both teams were flaws. Both teams are going to make the district playoffs we assume, but we saw flaws that might hurt them. For Pennridge, they may have become a little too Mike Class reliant. The kid is the real deal and all that, but you could tell that everyone follows him everywhere. Even the pass to Class for the first touchdown, there were two South guys over that way. When they face better defenses, I think that will become a problem.
“With South, it boils down to this – their defense is not good enough. It’s just really not good enough to make big stops. They don’t tackle well enough right now. There’s no way Class should be open on that touchdown pass. There’s no way Class should be able to run all the way from the left sideline to the right hash mark untouched on the 70-yard touchdown run. You count on your offense to bail you out over and over again. Eventually, the offense is not going to get the engine running. With more teams focusing more and more on Adams, I think it’s become a little more difficult for them to get the engine turned over. That is a major problem for them going into November.
“Again, South will be a top eight seed and get a home game if they do their job the final three weeks. They could win a game in the playoffs, but their cracks are beginning to show a little bit. That’s my own opinion.
“Pennridge is in first place by itself, but they play North Penn this week. North Penn is basically in an elimination game mode. You’re talking about a team that – with the exception of the Archbishop Wood game – haven’t really impressed you this year, and remember, they were almost down 17-0 in that game against Wood. It’s felt like something’s been missing the whole time, so here we are at a true make or break game. If you lose this one, you’re going home. You still have some questions about the offense. You have some questions about the secondary, and you’re going into a hostile environment. We’re going to see if Pennridge can sense blood in the water or if North Penn can rally one more time. This is a tough stretch. North Penn gets Pennridge and then plays Souderton in the final week. I know Souderton probably doesn’t make the playoffs, but you have two tough road games coming up. This is uncharted waters for North Penn because we haven’t really seen North Penn in elimination mode against an opponent that could beat them during the regular season. Even if North Penn gets into districts, are they scaring anybody? It’s tough to say, but they could literally turn their season around in one night.
“This is a great test to see which one of these teams still has its pulse. If Pennridge wins, Pennridge is probably going to win the conference because they’ve run the gauntlet and played all three big teams. If they lose, now what? What happens to Pennridge? What happens to South? What happens to North Penn? Do all three of them make districts and all three are in the bottom half of the bracket? You’re in that area where you don’t quite know what will happen, and it’s a dangerous, dangerous spot for all of them. And how does Souderton figure into this mess? Souderton is still alive going into this week against Quakertown. North Penn is the big obstacle. If Souderton beats North Penn, you would think they’d have a good shot of getting in. At this point, they need a lot of breaks, and they need to take care of business the next three weeks.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: What are your thoughts about the Pennridge-North Penn game?
Kevin Cooney: “This is the type of game you’ve become used to seeing North Penn win because they’re North Penn. Dick Beck made the comment the other week that some guys think they’ll win because they’re wearing blue and blue. These are the games North Penn wins – a road game, tough environment.
“Pennridge geared it up so much last week to beat South. Can they gear it up one more time? They do have the Poppy Yoder crowd that will be with them, but I really see this as more of an event for them and the end of playing three straight weeks that started with Souderton, then CB South and now you’re at the back end of this. How beat up are you coming in? How mentally tired are you?
“I think North Penn wins this game because North Penn has to. Quite honestly, I think North Penn wins this game because Pennridge probably has some scrapes and scars still left.
“This raises another issues – what happens if Pennridge wins two district playoff games heading into Thanksgiving? If that happens, this is a farce. This is why you can’t have that SOL game against Quakertown carry over to Thanksgiving. Do we assume what would probably happen? Yes. We can assume, but this is administrators trying to have their cake and eat it too, and to me, that’s absolutely ridiculous. This is why that system has to be changed. If you’re going to play Thanksgiving, then you don’t go to the playoffs. Quite honestly, you could play a second game if you want to and if you both are out of the playoffs. The league game has to be played within the league schedule. Do they think if you take the league element away from it people will not go to that game on Thanksgiving? These are people who go because they love high school football and the tradition and all that.
“It will be very interesting when we get to week 10 because you don’t know how the line will fall, especially if North Penn wins this week but may still be on the borderline.”