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Football coach Biff Poggi on leaving Gilman after 19 years: 'I felt like it was time'

Football coach Biff Poggi on leaving Gilman after 19 years: 'I felt like it was time'
Gilman football coach Biff Poggi, center, is pictured during Gilman's defeat of Mount Saint Joseph on Oct. 25, 2014. Poggi ended his tenure at Gilman after 19 years at the school in January 2016. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

Gilman football coach Biff Poggi is leaving the program he guided to 13 Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championships and a No. 13 national ranking this fall, after 19 years as head coach.

Poggi said it was an agonizing decision to leave the Gilman program, where he played, his three sons played and he hopes his future grandchildren might play.


"I felt like it was time, because we've done everything we could do," Poggi said. "I thought after the 100th [Gilman-McDonogh] game, it just wasn't going to get any better as a coach at Gilman. I don't know how many thousands of people were there. We brought the whole school together and it was a monumental deal, an unbelievable day. I kind of wanted to go out like that."

Poggi said he is considering offers to coach in two college programs, Maryland and Michigan. His son, Henry, is a tight end with two years of eligibility remaining at Michigan and his daughter, Mellie, is a member of the crew team there. Two All-Metro Gilman offensive linemen, Devery Hamilton and Stephen Spanellis, have committed to the Wolverines.

"I've been offered an assistant head coaching position at Michigan and if I can work it out, I would like to do a year there," said Poggi, who was an assistant coach at Brown, The Citadel and Temple before he came back to Gilman.

He said he left college coaching when his first child was born because of the time demands and he has one child still at home.

"Here we are with our last child in seventh grade and I really want to do the Michigan thing, but I don't want to do it more than I want to do what's best for my daughter," Poggi said. "That's what we're considering."

Poggi's Gilman coaching staff will move to St. Frances, where he was influential in getting the football program started in 2008.

St. Frances principal Dr. Curtis Turner said, "Even within our school community, it's known that his staff is going to be joining us next year with the blessing of our current head coach, Messay Hailemariam. Messay will have a very important role within the football program."

Turner said someone from the Gilman staff would be the head coach in the fall. He also said he expects Poggi to return to Baltimore to take over the program at some point.

"Biff has known St. Frances for a very long time," Turner said. "He was the lead benefactor when we started football. He was on our board at the time. His vision has always been to come and coach here."

At Gilman, athletic director Tim Holley will take over as interim coach for the fall season. School officials are in the process of forming a committee to find a full-time replacement for Poggi by the end of the fall season in November, headmaster Henry P.A. Smyth said in a statement. Holley and assistant head of school Bart Griffith will lead the committee.

The headmaster praised Poggi for his service to the school, where the coach will continue to conduct Bible study.

"He has used football as a platform to instill lessons of life and character in hundreds of former and current players. These lessons, well chronicled in Jeffrey Marx's book, "Season of Life," go well beyond the field and stay with the players throughout their lives," Smyth said in a statement. "Furthermore, Coach Poggi has cultivated a spirit of camaraderie that allows all of his players, from the established stars to those whose uniforms do not get very dirty, to feel a part of the team. The players know to believe in and look after each other."

There had been rumors of disagreements between Poggi and Smyth, who has been headmaster since 2013. While Poggi said they didn't always see eye to eye, he said that wasn't what drove him out.

"My experience is that at a private school, the relationship between the headmaster and the football coach is like the relationships between an owner and a head football coach in the NFL," Poggi said. "You're always asking for something, you always want something and you're looking at the picture of the school from the football coach's perspective and he's looking at it from the whole school's perspective. In my 19 years, there's always been some tension, but nothing greater."


Rumors have been swirling about Poggi's future since the end of last season. He was offered an assistant coaching position at Maryland on new head coach DJ Durkin's staff in December, but said he had to consider it and decide whether it was a good fit for him.

A 1979 Gilman graduate, he took the No. 1 Greyhounds to an undefeated run through the A Conference last fall with a season-finale 35-28 win in the 100th Gilman-McDonogh rivalry game.

After losing the season opener, 14-13, to St. Edward (Ohio) on the road at West Virginia University, the Greyhounds swept their last 10 games and earned the No. 1 ranking in the Maryland state media poll and the No. 13 ranking in USA Today's Super 25 national poll.

An assistant coach for eight years before he took over the Gilman program, Poggi has guided the Greyhounds to 10 outright A Conference titles and three shared titles. He has a 135-43 career record.

He was an offensive lineman for the Greyhounds before playing at Pittsburgh and Duke before spending time as a college assistant coach.