Born to coach

Jerry Glanville’s desire to be a head football coach stretches back to his days at Perrysburg (Ohio) High School in the 1950s when he was a scrawny middle linebacker who liked to hit hard.

Jerry Glanville’s desire to be a head football coach stretches back to his days at Perrysburg (Ohio) High School in the 1950s when he was a scrawny middle linebacker who liked to hit hard.

An English teacher asked Glanville to write an essay on what profession he wanted to pursue, and he wrote that he would like to become head coach of the Detroit Lions. His friend and fellow Perrysburg alumni Jim Leyland wrote about a career managing the Detroit Tigers.

Almost a half-century later, both Ohio natives have lived experiences most people only dream of. Leyland has been to the World Series as the Tigers’ manager, and while Glanville was never the Lions’ head coach, his first NFL coaching job was in Detroit.

“In high school, I knew then I was probably going to be a football coach. I really think the start of it was the mental breakdown, the knowledge of knowing what was happening before the ball was ever snapped. I think that was the driving force, initially,” Glanville said.

Glanville’s coaching pedigree first emerged when he was playing almost three full games a week under Perrysburg coach Jack Donaldson, who later coached 26 years in the NFL.

“In those days they didn’t count your quarters so you could play four quarters of freshman, four quarters of JV and a couple quarters of varsity. By the time I got to be a senior, I had played a lot of games,” Glanville said.

Playing all those games helped Glanville develop his keen ability to read offenses and defenses, a skill that wasn’t lost on Donaldson as he observed his young linebacker constantly adjusting his position to best expose the offense.

“He finally said, ‘Why do you get up and move over to a different spot?’ I said as a 17-year-old senior, ‘I know where the ball is going.’ He said, ‘why don’t you just go where you want to go,'” Glanville said.

Glanville’s high school team lost the second game of his junior year. It was the last loss he would experience as a high school player before graduating in 1959.

Once at Northern Michigan University, Glanville struck up another friendship with his head coach, this time a man named Rolly Dodge, who would also coach more than 20 years in the NFL.

“Unfortunately, I got a really bad knee injury when I played for Rolly. I got hurt, in all things, in a spring game. He said, ‘I want you to go off and scout the enemy,'” Glanville said. “I came back with the scouting report and he said, ‘You saw all that? They do all that?’ He realized I could see things most people didn’t see. He got me into coaching before I got out of school.”

Glanville graduated from Northern Michigan and spent three years coaching high school football before signing on as defensive coordinator at Western Kentucky University. By 1968, Glanville had been recruited to coordinate the Georgia Tech defense and just six years later, he had his first NFL job with the Detroit Lions as linebackers coach.

From there, football’s “Man in Black” has amassed an impressive resume. He moved on to the Atlanta Falcons, took a job with the Buffalo Bills, eventually became the head coach of the Houston Oilers and the Falcons, and spent 11 years doing color commentary for Fox, HBO and CBS.

Glanville then spent two years as defensive coordinator for the University of Hawaii before landing in the South Park Blocks for the 2007 season. Through all those changes, Glanville said his coaching philosophy remains mostly the same.

“We try to teach our players when they [the opponents] do this, we line up this way. We more or less digest what’s going to happen before the ball is snapped and our whole defense is set that way,” he said.

Glanville said the thing that keeps him coaching at 66 years old (he just celebrated a birthday Sunday) is the opportunity to continue teaching the game to another generation of players.

“You have to be the best professor on campus or you won’t be successful. If you told me I could coach but couldn’t teach, I’d leave tomorrow,” he said. “Watching a guy grow into a better and better player, that’s fun.”

Unlike some head coaches, Glanville isn’t one for intimidation. He rarely screams, doesn’t allow swearing during practices and said he won’t coach a player for the rest of the day if he cusses.

“It’s all about exchanging knowledge. I question you a lot. After I teach you, I question and question you,” Glanville said. “You are always in a final exam. I will know the answer to a question, but I’ll act like I don’t.

“Even if you give me the right answer, I will challenge you to make sure you believe in the right answer.”

Sometimes, even coaches don’t have the right answer. Many Vikings fans questioned Glanville’s decision to go for the win against Northern Arizona (a 44-43 Vikings loss) instead of kicking an extra point, but he said it never crossed his mind to try and tie the game.

“I would never coach players, young men, to try and get even. This whole thing is about getting ahead. If we kicked the extra point, at best we would have gotten even,” Glanville said.

As much as Glanville still finds thrills coaching football, the losses eat at him, though not because he spends hours second-guessing himself.

“When you lose a game, a little piece of you dies every single time. It means so much to so many people, and your players have worked so hard and your players have tried so hard,” he said. “The reward when you win only feels that good because losing is so hard. When we win, I may not sleep for three days. I never want that feeling to leave my body.”