Valley Pike: Denny Price, the decision
Posted: January 9, 2013
“Friday nights are just the icing on the cake. What leads up to that is what’s going to be hard to step away from.”
— Denny Price
Inwood, W.Va. — A new year dawns and so, in time, will a new era of Musselman High football. But now, for Denny Price, comes a “first January with nothing to do.”
On Dec. 20, Denny, the all-time winningest coach in the history of West Virginia high school football, officially called it a career after 40 years at the Applemen helm.
This past Friday, Denny welcomed me into his home and the first question I asked during a far-ranging and thoroughly engrossing two-hour interview was, “Why now, why this year, as opposed to, say, next year or even last year?”
“Well, 40 years seemed like a nice round number,” Denny deadpanned. But then he started talking about his first grandchild — Brayden, his son Matt’s boy, born May 23 — and his wife Penny, semi-retired though still teaching math at Blue Ridge Community College in Martinsburg.
“We talked about it for a couple of years,” he said. “I’m in good health, so I thought it was time to step back and enjoy my family. After all, being a football coach, I’ve shortchanged that aspect of my life for so long.”
And the “toughest part” of shelving his whistle, coach’s clipboard, and playbook after lo these many years? “Leaving the juniors, sophomores and freshmen” who will be the building blocks for his successor, the school’s first new head coach since 1973.
“We have some good kids coming back,” noted Denny, who then added he’ll play no part in the hiring process. Two of his assistants, Brian Thomas and Joey Eurish, have applied for the position, he says.
In fact, he said he does not wish to be the sort of former head coach who, however legendary, is viewed as a “cloud” hovering over the program he guided so ably. He knows when to step back.
“Whoever gets the job at Musselman High School,” Denny said, “has to feel it’s his own program. “I’m not going to be that guy who’ll second-guess. I’ve had that happen to me too much.
“We can talk, of course, whenever the new coach wishes to do that. I think I’ve left the program in good standing.”
I should say. Denny’s record, which includes three state championships in three decades (1974, ’82, and ’95) and myriad playoff appearances in between and after, speaks for itself, as does his title as the state’s all-time leader in victories with 276. Still, he characteristically downplays his legacy.
“The biggest thing is that it’s a reflection on the school,” he said, “a reflection of all the coaches and players, not just me . . . And it’s a reflection of a lot of hard work and dedication of many people, and of the fact I stayed in one place all this time.”
To be sure, when Denny assumed the head coaching reins in 1973, he was a kid of 23. By the time he finished, he was, he says, “Dad” or “The Old Man.”
“It was quite a career to enjoy,” he continues. “The only bad thing had to do with balance of time (between work and family). I didn’t do a good job with that, but I’m still healthy enough to get back in touch with that part of my life.”
And it’s a life, Denny says, that will remain “pretty simple.” He and Penny have no “elaborate plans.” He enjoys working outside their home off Three Run Road in Berkeley County, and has been known to play golf and fish a little. And then, of course, there’s that new grandson, for whom he plans to do his share of baby-sitting.
“Once July came,” Denny says, “I made it all-consuming. I’m looking forward to getting up every day and not going through a schedule. If Penny wants to go for a walk, then we’ll just go do it.”
Next Wednesday — Denny Price: the career.