De George: Britton’s fresh ideas help separate Springfield from crowd

After a decade spent waiting in the wings, the changes made by Chris Britton this summer were anything but sweeping.

A math teacher by trade — and an admitted worrier by hobby — Britton’s assumption of the head coaching job at Springfield was no radical coup, no comprehensive culture change.

It was more subtle, more calculated, more concise.

“Good isn’t good enough,’ Britton said Thursday, recounting the oft-repeated mantra on which he has based his team’s entire season of preparation. “I read them the outlook from last year, about how we come up short every big game, how we beat the teams we should but anybody with an above average record, we seem to fall short.

“We’ve had plenty of good teams, but did we want to be the same or to be different? It comes to a point where you can’t be happy with being good.’

That whisper of a new idea, a slight breeze of fresh air for a program that had cycled through intermittent periods of success under four coaches in the last decade, hardly differentiated itself from the gale force of new ideas gusting about the tumultuous training-camp atmosphere.

But three months later, it has nudged the Cougars on course, one win at a time, through a special season that has already comprised a first Central League title in 20 years and contains the promise of much more over the next month.

While Britton preps his team for what he hopes will be an extended playoff run through the District One Class AAA field, the rookie head coach stands in stark contrast not just to the man on the opposite sideline Friday night — longtime Interboro coach Steve Lennox — but to the pair of Delco teams that earned berths in the Class AAAA playoff field.

Both Garnet Valley, the No. 7 seed, and No. 16 Haverford High arrive in the postseason after controversy-blighted campaigns involving their long-tenured coaches. The Jaguars’ Mike Ricci will be on the sidelines after a voluntary two-week leave of absence midseason to “recharge’ following an incident on the sidelines involving a player that Ricci deemed, by way of an apology email, as “unwarranted and unnecessary.’

Joe Gallagher won’t be in Coatesville Friday night as the team he’s piloted for 23 seasons seeks its first playoff win, the Haverford coach this week taking a leave of absence from his post after being charged with DUI and related offenses stemming from an incident last weekend.

Between them, Gallagher and Ricci have some 51 years of head coaching experience at the high school level. Their ledgers reveal close to 300 wins and reputations on the gridiron that span decades and scores of success stories.

Yet none of that mattered when Springfield pulled away from Haverford in September, or when in Week 8, half of Ricci’s sabbatical, the Cougars suffocated Garnet Valley in a 7-0 win. It didn’t matter that Britton was still playing at Springfield in the early 1990s while Ricci and Gallagher were roaming the sidelines and cutting their teeth for the storied careers that lie ahead.

That experience, or lack thereof, may be of only tangential importance Friday night as the first round of districts unfolds for Springfield and its fellow Delco schools. What will be more important for the Cougars in the grand scheme are the little things that Britton has implemented in his time at the helm, the distillate of the four Springfield coaches under whose tutelage he served, Britton spending 12 seasons cherry-picking the do’s and don’ts proffered by each of his mentors.

Whether it’s his installation of a hurry-up, no-huddle approach, his insistence that the offense not press and take undue risks, or the simple assurance that great things can happen to a team boasting as stout and consistent a defense as the Cougars’, none have been particularly earth-shattering.

On the eve of the playoffs, Britton is espousing another idea that is neither original nor radical.

“I think the biggest thing we want to stress is we’ve been here before,’ Britton said. “It shouldn’t be a new event for us. It should be like anything else we’re working for all season, just like any other game.’

It’s simple and commonsense. But the simple act of voicing those kinds of ideas has served Springfield well all season.


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