By: Brian Fees | Towanda Daily Review | January 17, 2012 | Photo courtesy Brian Fees
Coaching changes are all too common in sports.
Some schools change coaches on a nearly yearly basis and the departure of one barely registers.
That is not the case with Towanda football. When he took over, Craig Dawsey was replacing a legend in Jack Young. Now, he has become a legend in his own right.
He has coached the Black Knights to three straight league championships and for many, not seeing him on the sidelines next year is going to be a shock.
No one was more surprised, or saddened, that he is leaving than his current and former players.
"He meant the world to me," senior Mason Roof said. "He was always there for us, on the field and off. I'm disappointed he had to go."
"I am heartbroken," senior Casey Huff said. "He is probably the greatest coach I have ever had for anything. You always knew he was there for you."
It's not just the current players who feel that way about their coach.
"As a player, he was always there for all of us, to push us through stuff," said former lineman Jordan Clark, who just finished his final season as an all-league sprint football player for Mansfield. "As an individual he helped me as my mentor. He is a big part of the reason I went into teaching and coaching."
Those coaching with Dawsey also learned a lot from him over the years.
"I learned a lot about delegation," offensive coordinator Ryan Larcom said. "He allowed his assistant coaches to coach. Which at the time was unusual and I think in the NTL that was different.
"When he came in it was just after Jack Young. You were just getting past the Ray Raffin's and Miller Moyer's. A lot of the coaches that ran everything," Larcom said. "How he did things was more like you saw coaching in the college ranks and sometimes in the pros. You don't see that a lot. He gave us control of some things. I think that's the key word 'control.' He gave up a certain amount of control."
Everyone knows that eventually a coach leaves, but that doesn't mean they were ready to hear that Dawsey would not be on the Towanda sidelines next year.
"I knew the time would come eventually," Towanda graduate Adam Harris, a captain for Syracuse University this past season, said. "It's definitely a surprise. But, he's got to do what's best for you and take care of your body."
"It was tough, I was just sitting around one day and heard," Clark said. "There are always rumors floating around. We found out and I told my mom and she couldn't believe it. It was shocking."
While they are sad, the seniors on this year's team are happy they were able to be a part of Dawsey's last championship team.
"To end with the NTL is the way it should be," Huff said.
"It's a nice way to go out to win three NTL titles back-to-back-to-back," Huff added.
Everyone that played for Dawsey knows how much he helped them in their lives.
"We were really lucky to have him as our coach," Roof said. "It's the end of a legacy with him leaving."
After high school ended players like Harris and Clark got an even better understanding of all that Dawsey did for them.
"When you are high school players sometimes it's hard what is going on and understand what they have done for you," Harris said. "When I look back, I have been on some average teams and very good teams in sports. He had a tremendous skill of motivating the guys. "
"Honestly the way I'm going about life right now would be completely different without him," Clark said. "He helped us become young men. He helped us grow. He was the reason I went into teaching and into coaching. He was always there for everybody. It was an honor to play for him."
The coaches around Dawsey always knew that he was helping to make kids into better people.
"His goal and our goal as coaches in football was to turn these boys into men," Larcom said. "Number one on our list was getting to know the kids and little things like remembering their birthdays and making sure they were well behaved in school. For him it was important to turn a boy into man. Discipline was a big thing with him."
One of the biggest things that everyone who has played for Dawsey like about him is how much he cares about them.
"As far as a head coach and the duties you need to do I don't think I've had a better coach than coach Dawsey," Harris said. "He ran a great program, respected you. Just about every week coach Dawsey would send me a long e-mail telling me good luck in the game, thinking of you. I think he remembers the birthday of every kid he ever coached. He is just a great man."
"He was always there with us in the locker room. There after games. There at family affairs. He knew all his players' birthdays by heart. He was the first person to make me crack and cry after our last game against Loyalsock. He really cares about every player."
For every player it is going to be very different coming back to games and not seeing Dawsey coaching the Black Knights.
"It's going to be unimaginable right now," Clark said. "Not looking down seeing the guy with his old Towanda jacket on his khakis. I'm used to seeing him my whole life since I came to games in the late 90s."
"It's going to be very different to come back and weird seeing a different coach out there," Roof said. "It's going to be really weird for the younger guys, for the juniors who won't have him next year."
While it will be tough to see him go, people know that the things he did for this program won't soon be forgotten.
"He's definitely a prominent figure in Towanda football," Harris said. "What he's established, that's what's going to stay. The morals and standards he put in place will still be there.
When you have a guy like that walking away it's going to be a tough spot to fill. But, he established a culture that he's put in place."
For Larcom it's already weird that Dawsey won't be back as coach.
"It's already strange," Larcom said. "He hasn't been in the best of shape physically wise and he didn't enjoy it as much as he should of the past couple of years. We didn't realize he was in as much pain. You have to do more for yourself. You Have to listen to your body and yourself and your family. It is going to be strange, but the hardest part is going to be for him.
Dawsey also ran the program different than some other head coaches do. He ran things more like a pro team, putting a lot of trust into his coordinators.
"You have to put a trust in your offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator," Harris said. "It's the importance of having good people around you.
"I think that's why you've seen Towanda have the success you've seen recent years. Guys like coach Larcom and coach (Jamie) Wecker, Dawsey puts trust in them. I think it's why a lot of the staff has been there double digits years because he put trust in them and let them do their jobs."
"I think the biggest change is going to be how he handled the community and how he handled players," Clark said. "Towanda is one of the few schools around here blessed with having great offensive coordinator in coach Larcom and great defensive coordinator in coach Wecker. It's going to be different though, I don't know what to expect."
Larcom agrees that the way Dawsey handled things is why the coaches have stuck around so long.
"I always felt like I was the head coach of the offense, so I never felt the urge to coach elsewhere," Larcom said. "There have been a lot of openings over the years. The past 11 years our staff has stayed consistent.
"Bill (Sexton) has been his junior high coach since he's been here. Assistants in junior high have been here three or four years. Mark Vail has been the constant on JV. Jamie and I been the constant on varsity. We all worked together on one staff. It was never just junior high and JV and varsity. It was one staff. One thing Craig does that I enjoyed since I've been here is you all have individual time with your players. We took care of drill work before we got to team work."
The current players know that the one thing that will help is that those coming back next year have already learned from Dawsey.
"He already taught them everything," Huff said. "They should be fine."
While he will no longer be coach of the Black Knights, those who coached him know he will still be around, helping enrich the lives of students as a teacher.
"He's got to take care of himself," Clark said. "I know this was hard on him. I know the meeting was pretty heartfelt. He has to take care of himself. He is going to continue to be a great teacher for young kids. We will still see him around. He will always be a Black Knight."
Even not being on the sidelines, Larcom knows he will still be helping the kids get ready to play for the Black Knights.
"I hope the tradition continues," Larcom said. "He teaches eighth grade. He helps these kids learn the lessons in eighth grade before they ever get to the program. He makes sure they do the right things and I'm sure he will still be doing that and getting them ready to play in high school.
"For me it's been a fun 12-year run. Where we go from here is not up to me, but I really enjoyed the last 12 years with him."