FRANCONIA >> About 15 years ago, Jim Henning was on a golf outing at Fox Hollow.
He and John DeSimone, head coach of Wissahickon High at the time, teamed up against Mike Pettine and Drew Darrah.
Pettine and Darrah “cleaned our clocks,” Henning said, resulting in he and DeSimone having to buy the lunch that day, nearby at the Souderton McDonald’s.
Soon after they took their first bites, Pettine and Darrah were debating back and forth about a particular football play.
“Before I knew it, coach Darrah is cleaning off the table — all the trays, putting them behind him, and he’s making an offense out of french fries and his defense was 11 little pieces of hamburger,” Henning recalled. “He goes to Pettine, says ‘okay,’ takes this tall, skinny french fry wide receiver, and puts him in motion. He says ‘now I got the edge.’ Pettine, with his Bear Bryant voice, says ‘no big deal,’ and brought his strong safety over.”
The chess match was on.
“It got pretty heated after about 15 minutes — they were going through all kinds of formations,” Henning said. “In fact the kid taking out the trash looked scared — he had his flip phone out and I thought he was gonna call 9-1-1 on these guys.
“DeSimone and I, we’re just looking at each other, didn’t say a word the whole time. We thought man, oh, man, we are in the presence of greatness. I did a lot of coaching clinics in my day. I heard (Bill) Belichick and (Dick) Vermeil, Lou Holtz, Bobby Bowden…I never was in a better clinic than I was in that 15 minutes of football. I was hoping it would go all afternoon into the night, but it ended pretty abruptly. Coach Darrah got hungry and ate the whole offense and defense.”
Henning’s story about Darrah was part of a colorful tapestry woven on Saturday, as former players, coaches, family and friends got together at Souderton Area High School to celebrate the life of the coaching icon, who passed away in October at the age of 80.
Several tales involved the fierce but healthy rivalry between Darrah and Pettine — Pettine, the coaching legend at Central Bucks West, passed away earlier this year at age 76.
Pettine said his toughest, physical game every year was against Souderton. Against Darrah.
“He was a miracle worker,” said Scott Myers, one of Darrah’s former players.
“He was born to coach,” said Henning, who quarterbacked for Darrah.
Darrah was a coaching fixture at Souderton, leading the Indians from 1964-1997, with an overall record of 223-127-9 during his tenure. He averaged seven wins per season.
His offenses were known for their tricky trap plays that constantly caught teams off guard. Souderton won titles four titles during that run — winning the Bux-Mont League in 1969 and the Suburban One League Liberty Division in 1988, 1992 and 1993.
Beneath the tough, coaching facade was a big heart and an entrepreneurial spirit. Darrah once constructed a barn in his back yard, so that he could raise worms for sale.
“Unfortunately, frozen worms were not a hot-market item at that time,” said Souderton golf coach Fred Cicacci, who had helped Darrah on his quest to find the lumber for the barn.
Marty Nau, one of five brothers to play for Darrah, recited two poems that he wrote in honor of the former coach, one of which was called “Football Imitating Life.”
Darrah was known for his faith just as much as he was for football.
“Souderton’s a unique place — you saw that today, and he was a unique man,” Henning said of the coach, husband and great grandfather. “It was a perfect marriage. As gruff as he was, he had a tender heart.”
Somewhere, those golf outings are still going on…
“Those two (Darrah and Pettine) were so competitive, it was unbelievable,” said Souderton head football coach Ed Gallagher. “Those are my fondest memories — playing golf with Jim and Drew and Mike Pettine and just seeing them get so angry (laugh).
“Once I got the job here, coming over from Pennridge, I was introduced by Jim, to Drew, to kind of pick his brain and talk about the program and the tradition here and everything. He was certainly an invaluable asset as I built the program here. It’s always good to have guys like that, who have blazed the trail before you…He was a really good man.”
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