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East Stroudsburg football coach calls it a career with an unmatched exit

By Andy Katz

Dennis Douds won 264 games from 1974 to 2018 as football coach at East Stroudsburg. But he chose to retire in an unusual fashion with two games left in the 2018 season. Bob Shank / East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania

Dennis Douds never circled 2018 as the end of his football coaching career.

He wasn’t sure when it could come.

He just knew that, one day, he would have that feeling that the passion was fading.

Douds prepared for preseason football practice at East Stroudsburg in the Poconos like he had every summer since 1974, when he became the head coach — and even back to 1966, when he was an assistant.

But something was different when camp broke.

“It just didn’t feel the same as it had in the past,’’ Douds says. “Hey, you can’t almost go swimming. Either you jump in or stand on the deck. If I wasn’t going to jump in all the way, then it wasn’t the right thing. That’s when I started to think about it.’’

The 77-year-old Douds knew he had to get this right.

A common dream among successful coaches is to go out on their own terms. It’s the best way to end an illustrious career. But few have that opportunity.

Douds consulted coaches, friends and family.

“I didn’t want to be a lame-duck coach,’’ Douds says. “I didn’t want to tell everyone in September and then retire in November. I didn’t want to be a distraction to anyone. I didn’t tell anybody my plan until the Wednesday before our last (home) game. I told my wife. On the Friday before the game, I told my president. Both of them said the same thing: ‘Are you sure?’ They wanted to make sure this wasn’t a snap decision.’’

It wasn’t. After a 1-7 start to the year, he carefully choreographed a plan heading into the final home game against Ohio Dominican on Oct. 27 — one that would allow him to end his career on his home field and hand the head coaching reins for the season’s final two games to associate head coach Jimmy Terwilliger.

Champion magazine: What was the plan?

Dennis Douds: We were down 31-7 at the end of the third quarter. … My plan was to call a timeout late and do it. But then it looked like we could win. But then we lost the ball out of bounds. So I called a fourth timeout with 12 seconds left. I got my whistle out of my pocket and called the whole team over to take a knee. I told them I love them and said, “See you.” I walked across the field. The officials came up to me and I said, “I just retired.” I had told my wife that as I walk off, I would tip my hat to her to say I love you. I did that as I walked outside the stadium, got in my car that I had parked 10 yards from the gate, and I smiled all the way home.

CM: How close were you to having something go wrong with your plan?

Douds: The amusing part is that, at halftime, I looked at the gate going out and saw that it was locked. I thought, “What happens if I get over there and it’s locked?” I saw one of our work-study guys, and I told him to go over and check on that gate. I told him the visiting team goes out that gate and to make sure it’s open. He told me he made sure the gate is open. He said he made sure the police would make sure it’s open.

CM: What were your first thoughts as you pulled this off, got in your car and started to drive home?

Douds: It was a heckuva run. I’m starting a new adventure right now.

CM: You’ve won 264 games, coached in 471, seen nearly 1,000 players go through your program. What’s your legacy?

Douds: I hope we made a difference in people’s lives. I did it the right way and gave people an opportunity to use the game to get a college education and take the lessons learned and make a difference in the community.

CM: In what way has the game changed?

Douds: Now we have such a diverse attack with a lot of different athletes playing the game. … Now you have offense and defense and special teams; we’ve gotten more kids involved. That’s great. We have given kids the chance to make a contribution to something bigger than themselves.

CM: How rare will it be for coaches to coach as long as you did and all at one school for 53 seasons overall, 45 as head coach?

Douds: Are we dinosaurs? Maybe.

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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