Special to The Phoenix
ROYERSFORD -- Gary Rhodenbaugh, who helped Spring-Ford to its first unbeaten football season before returning to his alma mater to take over the program, will not be on the Rams' sidelines next season.
The 35-year-old Rhodenbaugh was recently informed by school officials that his contract would not be renewed.
This past season, the Rams were 3-9, losing three games by a touchdown or less. They were within a touchdown for at least a half against three of the Pioneer Athletic Conference's top four teams: unbeaten champion Pottsgrove, runner-up Owen J. Roberts and Upper Perkiomen, all of whom later qualified for the District 1-AAA playoffs.
Since replacing Marty Moore, who retired following the 2002 season, Rhodenbaugh's teams were 21-42 in the Pioneer Athletic Conference and 27-56 overall.
"I knew there was pressure in terms of the wins and losses, but at the same time I was not expecting the (recent) outcome," Rhodenbaugh said. "At no point did anyone mention those (wins and losses) terms in talking to me. It was just indicated to me that (administration) wanted to move in a different direction."
Rhodenbaugh inherited a very young and inexperienced team in his first season (2003) and stumbled to a 1-11 record. His next two teams improved to 4-8 and then 6-5 before slipping to 5-7 in 2006. The following year, the Rams were mentioned in the preseason as one of the contenders for the PAC-10 championship and got off to a 3-1 start; however, they dropped three of their final four league games and finished 5-4 (6-6 overall).
Rumors that Rhodenbaugh would be replaced began swirling around the Spring-Ford community a year ago, or shortly after a 2-10 run in
2008. But the displeasure voiced by some parents and fans was offset by strong support from other parents and fans, as well as by the school's administration.
That support, and members of all seven of his teams, were what Rhodenbaugh remembered this past week.
And what made his dismissal even harder to digest.
"There are a lot of emotions, but I guess disappointment is the No. 1 emotion right now," Rhodenbaugh explained. "I had some great kids, really great kids to work with.
"Also, what really makes it difficult is that I'm an alumnus, a teacher in the school district, a parent of kids who go to school in the Spring-Ford school district and a member of the Spring-Ford community. I have a great stake in Spring-Ford, a lot of pride in our school district. I have always wanted (Spring-Ford) to do well, and I wanted to see all of this through. So, yes, I'm disappointed to see how things worked out."
Rhodenbaugh was an integral part of Spring-Ford's first unbeaten team in 1992. He was an all-league offensive lineman and linebacker for the Rams who ran the table in the PAC-10 and finished 11-0 overall.
He went on to play at Ursinus College, where he graduated in 1997.
His coaching career began as a linebackers coach at Delaware Valley College. But after one season over in Doylestown, Rhodenbaugh returned to Spring-Ford, where he was an assistant on Moore's staff for five years before taking over the program.
"I felt I met my expectations, minus the last two years, when the wins and losses became the big issue," Rhodenbaugh said. "I felt I kept everything in perspective as far as football being part of the education process, promoting athletics for the benefits they offer.
"Right now, I'm going to look at whatever opportunities may be out there. I'm still very much motivated."
Rhodenbaugh was only the sixth head coach in the 55-year history of Spring-Ford's football program. ... Rhodenbaugh, along with Phoenixville's Bill Furlong, Pottstown's Rick Daniels, St. Pius' Ed McCann and Upper Perkiomen's Keith Leamer, were all named their respective school's new head coaches in 2003. Furlong and Leamer are the only two in the group still at their schools and both are expected to kick off their eighth seasons next summer. ... The recently completed Pioneer Athletic Conference season was only the fourth time since the league's inaugural run in 1986 that there were no new head coaches on the sidelines. Next season, of course, there will be at least one. The new Pope John Paul II High School, which will combine both St. Pius X and Kennedy-Kenrick, has not named a new football coach, or any coaches, as of yet, either.