I knew nothing about the Lincoln University football coach, not even his name, only that he was making the considerable effort of showing up at the Philadelphia small college football luncheons, which alternate between Villanova and Penn, some distance from Lincoln’s Chester County campus.
Also, when this man talked about football, he seemed to make just as much sense as the other veteran coaches talking about their teams, how his staff was simplifying things, working on 15 plays, how when his guys got to the point they knew six plays inside and out, that translated to the field on Saturdays.
This coach’s name, interestingly, carries some weight in the sport of football, including with Eagles fans. Just this week, Lincoln’s coach talked about his team’s next game at Virginia State, how Virginia State defensive players are “coached by a heck of a coach, a handsome guy, named Vernon Dean, who happens to be my father.”
Vernon Dean, if you’re old enough … the name resonates. He won two Super Bowls as a defensive back with Washington, once intercepted seven passes in a season, ran two back for touchdowns.
“My dad was the one who got me into coaching,” Josh Dean said over the phone this week.
Maybe that’s no surprise, except Lincoln’s coach once thought it wasn’t his path. He’d played football at San Diego State, and signed with the Chicago Bears, but the practice squad was his highest level, before Dean moved on to a season with the Cologne Centurions of the NFL Europe League. When Dean was done with football, he thought he was leaving the sport behind.
“You know too much football,’’ his father told him, “and know too many guys.”
Josh can tick off all sorts of former Washington players he considers uncles, starting with Darrell Green. And maybe stepping away, “dealing with that defeat, not being where I thought I would be,” helps Dean now as much as any success he’s had.
Hired at Lincoln before last season, now 38 years old, saw his Division II team reach a losing streak of 19 straight games before experiencing victory Saturday, beating Elizabeth City, 17-14.
“Glad to finally come up here and talk about a good victory,” Dean said at this week’s luncheon. “A great victory. One of those old-fashioned games, running the ball, playing tough defense, and really taking the air out of the ball.”
This isn’t Dean’s first head-coaching stop. He’d had the top job at Kentucky State for three seasons, before coaching the defensive line at Campbellsville University in Kentucky for a couple seasons. He’d started out at Fort Valley State in Georgia, working with his father, the defensive coordinator.
“As a young coach, I thought I was a smart player,” Dean said. “I thought I knew, but I didn’t.”
His Lincoln team is young. He says the coaches don’t know what they’re getting week to week, even practice to practice.
“The difference this week … we just didn’t let go of the rope,” Dean said. “When you’re changing the culture, it doesn’t happen overnight. There are things you’re trying to fine-tune with your players. We’re trying to come in, [see] who’s in, who’s not, who wants to go with it. When you have a young group, you’re really trying to hold on to that group.”
A losing streak tests all that, obviously.
“Guys who don’t want to buy in, they just can’t be a part of it,” Dean said. “I see myself, I’m not above the program. No player is above the program. Nobody. So we all have to hold ourselves accountable.”
This week, a family reunion takes a back seat. Virginia State has never lost to Lincoln, but has struggled a bit lately, now is 2-4. Dean had talked with his dad about bringing the grandkids down, and maybe some friends. Son texted father earlier this week, firming up plans, hasn’t heard back. The son didn’t sound miffed, more amused. This game means something. They can hug it out later.
Also, remember this Lincoln coach’s name.