Phil Gormley always knows what’s best for his players.
Even when they’re long removed from his program.
Gormley, the coach of the Northeast High School football team, has been the head man with the program for seven years. Prior to being the head man for the Vikings, he was an assistant at Olney and Northeast as well as the head coach at Jenkintown.
And while he could break down football with the best of them, he was just as good at giving advice off the field.
“I had my degree and I was getting ready to go for my master’s in strength and conditioning,” said Eric Clark, a Northeast grad who played football at Towson State. “I had breakfast with him in Abington right before I was to declare what I was going to study, and he told me that I belong in education. He told I belong teaching and coaching kids.
“I said, ‘No I don’t!’ But when I filled out the card to declare what I was going to study … I changed my mind. He knew where I belonged before I did. He cared enough to think about me and tell me what I should do. I don’t want to say he made me change, but he helped me decide.”
Putting players in the best position to succeed has been a calling card for Gormley, and over the last four seasons, each one has ended with a Public League championship. He won’t be going for a five-peat.
Gormley’s last game as the Northeast coach was on Thanksgiving when he led the Vikings to a 36-16 win over Central. It was Northeast’s six straight win in the series. The last loss was in Gormley’s first year.
“We had such a tough schedule that year, we opened with four straight losses against the best teams around,” said Gormley, who will stay on at the school as a health and physical education teacher. “Then we won six straight, and lost in the playoffs, then lost to Central. I was worried. But we turned it around.”
That’s an understatement.
Five years ago, the Vikings were an upstart team with young players who led the team to the Public League championship game before falling to an experienced Simon Gratz team. Since then, Northeast has rolled to four straight and most of the championships were won in blowout fashion.
The past couple of years, Northeast’s goal wasn’t winning the Public League crown, but knocking off nationally ranked St. Joe’s Prep. The Vikings never did, but every year, they were closer and this year Prep escaped with a victory instead of playing the second half with a running clock.
The football achievements are many, and the record speaks for itself, but those who know Gormley don’t talk much about the wins or banners. They’re far more concerned about the other great things he did for the program and the school.
“He’s a great football guy, but more than that, I love him as a person and think so much of him,” said former Northeast coach Mel Hinton, who coached with Gormley as an assistant and later hired Gormley to be an assistant when he was head coach. “In football, he’s so good. He can analyze situations and make the right decision. He’s a great football coach.
“But personally, I love him. I love him because he’s the kind of coach who wants what’s best for the kids. He always put the kids first. He always wanted the kids to succeed. And he’s hard on them. He expects a lot. He demands a lot. But he does it because he wants them to be good while they’re playing and when they leave us.”
That seems to be the consensus opinion.
And while Gormley is great at putting players in position to succeed, he does the same thing with coaches.
Gormley’s staff is filled with former players who starred at Northeast. Some have gone on to play in the NFL, others have tried other jobs. But they all return, not just to help Gormley, but to help their school and the kids.
“He’s been great, helping me learn a lot about coaching,” said Deion Barnes, who played at Northeast, Penn State and later the New York Jets before returning to his school to coach the defense and run the team’s weight training program. “I came back because I wanted to help kids. I figure if I can do it, there are other kids who can get an education and do things in football. And he’s helped me a lot.
“He was a great coach, and now he’s teaching me things. I know I don’t know everything, and he knows a lot. He helps us. He wants to help us because he wants the kids to do better.”
Gormley certainly wants to win games.
It’s why he put in so much time studying film and watching the kids work during the offseason to get bigger and stronger.
But he was more worried about helping kids succeed off the field.
It’s one of the reasons he instituted study hall for his team. Every day before practice, the team would meet and do homework for 45 minutes before starting physical training. This year, he also instituted weekly progress reports for every player.
“We gave them out at study hall on Monday and if it wasn’t filled out for any reason by Thursday, they didn’t play,” Gormley said. “It worked great. This year, we had one kid who couldn’t play because of grades. We can’t fix problems if we don’t know about them. If we know about them, we can address it.”
One problem Gormley won’t have to address is leaving the next coach without a lot of talent. In fact, the bulk of this year’s team will return next year hoping to get back to the championship and get another crack at a city and state championship.
But Gormley isn’t having second thoughts about giving up the gig.
“There are a lot of kids I would like to coach next year, but every year, you’re going to have a kid you want to coach,” Gormley said. “It’s the right time. Everything is in place, the other guys are ready to do what needs to be done. And I’m not going anywhere, I’ll still be in the building. I’ll still help the kids. That’s not about coaching, that’s about teaching. Every teacher in the building is the same way. They would help any of the kids.”
But Gormley will be busy helping other kids, too.
While he’s known for being there for his players, Gormley is also always there for his children.
His son Gage, a former assistant coach at Northeast and currently in the Navy, starred in football and lacrosse. His daughter Darby, now a math teacher at the school, was an athlete at Abington. Payton starred in soccer and lacrosse at Abington and is now playing at Bryn Athyn College, where she is a sophomore. And his youngest, Shey, plays lacrosse at Abington.
“They are the biggest reason I’m doing this,” said Gormley, a Feltonville native who graduated from Cardinal Dougherty. “With Gage and Darby, I was lucky. I was coaching at Jenkintown, and they didn’t have lights, so I would coach the games on Friday afternoon or Saturday morning, and I could watch them play. Now, I’m missing too much and I want to see them play. And football is a year-round commitment. And my guys would always tell me to go, and sometimes I would, but I’m a believer in if you take a check, you do the job, so I wanted to be there. But I want to see them play.”
And while he won’t be at every practice and every weight-training session, he will be at every game, and he’ll always be there for his former players, whether they’re playing, coaching or doing things away from the football field.
“I know I’ll be calling him all the time,” Clark said. “I never thought I’d be here, but now I think I’ve done some things that have helped Northeast, the school and the football team. Everything I do, I’ve learned from him. He taught me everything. We work hard here. We have a great weight-training program under Deion that we start in January. If you want to beat Prep, you have to work like them. That’s the attitude we have. It’s the attitude we got from Coach. I never call him his first name, he’s either Uncle Phil or Coach. That’s how much respect I have for him. He’s just a great man.”
“The best thing I can say about his is he does things the right way,” Hinton said. “We had a great thing going when I was here. We were successful. He took it to a whole new level. And he does it the right way, he does it with class and he does it by making the kids better. I love the man. He’s just a good person.”