It’s not that things never change at 19th-ranked Douglass, where the practice field is nearly always a dust bowl and the quarterback has to learn when to pitch the ball on the option well before he learns how to read pass coverages.
But at a time when coaches come and go and strategies often change from season to season, the Eagles are something of an anomaly.
First, the coaching staff is just large enough to field a basketball starting five, far from the trend of high school football teams with enough coaches to line up man for man against the teams they’re coaching. Second, those five men have been working together for quite some time. The Eagles coaches believe in hard work and good blocking and include two men who will wear shorts on the sidelines regardless of the temperature.
“I’m old-school and the staff is too,” said Douglass Coach J.C. Pinkney, who has been at the Upper Marlboro school for 14 years, the past 10 as the Eagles’ head coach. “We don’t trip over the hype and all the other stuff. We cast it as you do an honest day’s work and get the payoff at the end of the week.”
The payoff, this week, would be the biggest in school history. Consistently one of the top teams in Prince George’s County, the Eagles — making their ninth consecutive playoff appearance — had never been able to get over the hump until this year. By beating Kent Island, 22-6, last week, Douglass advanced to the Maryland 2A final.
Douglass (11-2) will try for its first state title Saturday against Middletown (12-1) at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
This season’s team is led by three seniors — running back Josef Hinnant, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards, quarterback Taitor Reynolds has thrown 15 touchdown passes, and running back Emmanuel Smith returned faster than expected in midseason after breaking his arm in the preseason.
“As much work as [the coaches] put in, we have to put in,” Reynolds said. “They don’t expect anything from us that they don’t do themselves.”
The coaches are most certainly enjoying this playoff run, even if it was a bit chilly and breezy on the practice field this week.
“We’re coaching in Week 14. We’ve never done that before,” said assistant coach Bill Johnson, who is completing his 30th season at the Upper Marlboro school, including a five-year stint as head coach from 1997 to 2001. “I can’t imagine not being with these guys. Weightlifting is fun just because we get to see each other. They’re my best friends. To get to coach with guys who are your best friends? It doesn’t get any better than that. We know we have it good.”
Johnson started at Douglass just weeks after graduating from Salisbury State in 1982. He remembers the one season in the mid-1980s when he and then-Coach Tom Glynn were the only coaches for the Eagles’ varsity team.
Johnson was successful as a head coach, including a state semifinal appearance in 2000, but having four children and working as a teacher and assistant principal at St. Columba Catholic School in Oxon Hill was not conducive to the demands of being a head coach. By that point, though, Johnson knew that Pinkney was ready to take over.
“I knew in ’98, when J.C. came aboard, his first year and he was our JV coach,” Johnson said. Former assistant coach “Rel Savoy and I were watching JV run special teams and I told Rel, ‘J.C. will be the next head coach at Douglass.’ ”
Years later, Pinkney laughs about taking over.
“He was showing me the ropes, me not realizing it,” Pinkney said. “Basically setting me up to be the head coach.”
Sonny Yeatman, who like Johnson has an aversion to wearing long pants to games or practice, also joined the staff in 1998. Pinkney brought his father, Ron, and Davon Bridges on board in 2005.
“With that tenure on the coaching staff, when ideas are thrown around, there is an understanding where it’s coming from and there is consistency and discipline,” Pinkney said. “There is a level of trust between everyone. Me and my staff, there are no egos. No one is tripping off, who is the big fish, who is the boss.”
Occasionally, when the Eagles line up against an opponent with a dozen or more coaches, their coaches will look across the field and wonder “how the jobs sort themselves out,” Johnson said.
“We laugh about it,” Yeatman said. “My question is, are all 15 guys on the same page? Are they telling kids the same thing? I know we are.”