By: Aaron Slutkin
Since last March, Gilman Football has been under the shadow of “graduation and attrition,” to use Coach Tim Holley’s term. The Greyhounds graduated nine starters from a top-25 team last year and—by Coach Holley’s count—lost eleven more members in the wake of Coach Biff Poggi’s departure.
On one hand, the erosion of the team’s talent has led many in and outside the Gilman community to question the team’s prospects in 2016.
For Coach Holley, on the other hand, “it’s been a good summer.”
For football players, it’s been a hard summer. Since June 6, the team has been spending its mornings or afternoons under the hot and humid summer sun in strength and conditioning workouts, installation practices, and a seven-on-seven league. Coach Holley has been right alongside his players every day, gushing that he “couldn’t be more pleased with the commitment from the boys and from the coaches.”
Coach Holley recognizes how that commitment might have been difficult to make. “Going from a beloved coach whom they’ve cherished and going to a new experience with new people, I think the kids have responded terrifically. The response from the kids who’ve stayed and committed and become engaged with what we’re trying to do has been fabulous.”
Though the players have bought into the team’s philosophy, Coach Holley believes that any changes are minimal. “I’ve never felt like we’re going in a new direction,” Coach Holley explains. “Coach Poggi ran his leg of the relay race, and now it’s my turn to carry the baton. In terms of belief and how you do things, there would be great similarities between me and Coach Poggi because we both worked for Coach Sherman Bristow and played for Coach Alexander Sotir. Those influences are a lot of what I know as a football coach.”
Coach Holley says that any real difference between him and Coach Poggi is and will be found in style. “I consider myself well-organized so there should be a purpose for what we do. My philosophy would be to be as prepared as you possibly can be for every scenario.” He adds, rather poetically, “I’m a big proponent of proper preparation to prevent poor performance.”
He does draw some differences between his and Coach Poggi’s personalities. “Coach Poggi’s a big personality, great spontaneity, enthusiastic.” With a chuckle, he distinguishes himself, saying, “I’m probably a bit more measured, a bit more systematic, probably less spontaneous than he is. I see myself more as a person whose job it is to organize the ship and make sure that the sailors can do their job.”
Though Coach Holley downplays it, ostensibly and operationally, there are differences between this team and its decorated predecessor. Since so much of Coach Poggi’s operation was rebuilt at St. Frances Academy, the Greyhounds are operating with fewer and newer pieces: beloved math teacher Mr. Jeff Gouline (‘00) takes on the role of defensive coordinator; Middle-School math teacher Mr. Bryn Holmes heads up special teams; and a new but familiar face, Mr. Russell Wrenn (‘96), joins Gilman as a teacher, assistant athletic director and the team’s new offensive coordinator. This year, all three coordinators are Gilman teachers, while last year, none were. This is true across the staff, where nearly every coach is employed by Gilman as a teacher (Coach Holley will also be co-teaching African-American Literature). This is a Gilman football team that is, in mind, body, and spirit, bluer and grayer.
Despite so much tumult, the team looks ahead to the season. If you asked any player—from either 2016 or 1976— what the team’s goals were, they would deliver the mantra that is conditioned into every player: “win the league and beat McDonogh.” Through graduation and attrition, some things never change