Upper Darby High School is moving on from longtime head football coach Rich Gentile following the 2019 season.
In an email sent Thursday night to parents and guardians, Upper Darby athletic director Frank Nunan explained the decision to part ways with Gentile, who has been coach of the Royals since 1994.
“After careful evaluation, it has been determined that the administration and Coach Rich Gentile do not share the same the same vision of the future of the football program,” Nunan wrote. “As a result, Coach Gentile will be leaving the head coaching role after the 2019 season.”
In a voicemail message to the Daily Times, Nunan declined to give further comment beyond what was stated in the email.
“All of the information that we’re releasing was in the statement,” he said.
Gentile told the Daily Times that he was not voluntarily resigning or retiring from his coaching job. Gentile will remain in his teaching position beyond 2019.
“The school district is going in a different direction,” Gentile said. “That’s all.”
Gentile added that he is happy to return on his year-to-year contract with the school district and looks forward to coaching the Royals one more year.
Gentile owns an overall record of 170-125-1. He is the fifth longest-tenured active football coach in Delaware County behind Garnet Valley’s Mike Ricci, Haverford High’s Joe Gallagher, Interboro’s Steve Lennox and Strath Haven’s Kevin Clancy.
According to a source with knowledge of the situation, Gentile’s imminent departure as head coach was accelerated by the firing of offensive coordinator Eric Ruffenach. A 2002 Upper Darby graduate, Ruffenach had in recent months posted pictures on Twitter and Facebook of the school’s deteriorating field conditions and poor facilities, much to the chagrin of Nunan and acting superintendent Dan McGarry, according to the source.
Gentile was told to stay on board for one more year with the provision that Ruffenach does not return.
Ruffenach confirmed he was relieved of his duties and issued no other comment.
“A plan will be developed for the hiring of a new head football coach and transitioning that coach into the role for the 2020 season,” Nunan wrote in the email. “The high school and the district are excited to move the football program in a new direction and appreciate your support of Upper Darby Athletics.”
Several former Upper Darby football players do not share that sentiment. One of Gentile’s biggest success stories is All-Delco Simoni Lawrence, who is an all-star player for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Canadian Football League (CFL).
Lawrence voiced his displeasure of the news on Twitter Friday.
“Very disappoint about how #UPPERDARBY school district is handling Coach Rich Gentile,” Lawrence tweeted from his account, @Simoni_Lawrence. Lawrence said he would “fly in” to support his former coach.
Very disappoint about how #UPPERDARBY school district is handling Coach Rich Gentile I have a lot to say and would love to fly in and do a sit down interview or even a phone interview with @delcotimes and @DTMattSmith .
— Simoni Lawrence (@Simoni_Lawrence) December 14, 2018
Several teachers, who are fighting for new contracts, rallied on school grounds on Gentile’s behalf Friday morning.
During the past season, parents of players complained on Facebook and other social media sites about the school district’s failure to improve locker room facilities and field conditions.
The same source with knowledge of the football program believes the school district, by firing Gentile and Ruffenach, is doing more harm than good.
“Frank Nunan and Dan McGarry are totally derailing the program right now,” the source said.
Gentile has been the head coach at Upper Darby since the 1994 campaign and has coached at the school since 1982. A lifetime Royal, Gentile is a 1978 graduate of the school.
“Rich is one of the nicest people you will ever meet and he has given his life to improving the lives of thousands of children in the school district,” said one former coaching colleague of Gentile, who requested anonymity. “What Upper Darby is doing is disgraceful.”
In a meeting with Gentile after the season, according to the source with knowledge of the coaching situation, Nunan gave his mostly negative evaluation of the football program. Qualifying for the District 1 Class 6A playoffs this year, which the Royals have accomplished five times during Gentile’s tenure, was not satisfactory to Nunan or the administration.
Upper Darby won seven games and advanced to the district playoffs for the third time since 2015. They have 27 wins over that period.
“Since 1982, Coach Gentile has influenced the lives of countless young men, both athletically and academically, and we wish him the best in his future endeavors,” Nunan wrote.
Gentile coached Floyd Wedderburn and Todd Rucci, who enjoyed lengthy NFL careers. Lawrence is in the midst of great career in the CFL.
That’s just the start of what Gentile has done to improve the lives of many student-athletes who’ve played under him at Upper Darby.
In the last five years, Gentile and his staff have hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for more than 25 of the team’s players. Each player eats their meal with the coaches’ families and shares what they are thankful for. Five turkeys and other goodies are provided by the Upper Darby coaching family each year.
Earlier this year, when senior Shawn McCullough lost his home in a fire, coaches and their families raised $1,500 and several bags of clothes and other necessities. The Daily Times told McCullough’s story in September.
One player’s family had to be relocated to a hotel during the 2018 season. Gentile and the coaches donated $400 worth of groceries and $300 in cash to the player and his family the next day. Several coaches and their families are actively helping the family during the holiday season.
Gentile and his coaches have escorted players on college trips. For example, Ruffenach drove three players to the University of New Hampshire in 2015 when the players expressed interest in the program. Coaches Sean Pickett and Shawn Quinn have taken players to colleges to tour campuses and meet with coaches.
Over the years, Gentile has been willing to pay for a player’s physical in the event the player’s parents or guardians are unable to afford it.
More than 60 of Gentile’s players have furthered their education at a university, the military, the trades and the police academy in the last five years.