Just as NFL coaches Andy Reid, John Gruden, Jim Zorn and others could be linked to Mike Holmgren and the West Coast offense, the two District 12 coaches vying for PIAA football championships this weekend have a connection.
Before taking over at their respective schools, West Catholic's Brian Fluck and Archbishop Wood's Steve Devlin served apprenticeships under St. Joseph's Prep 17-year boss Gil Brooks.
"They were not just guys that coached with me," Brooks said. "They were good people and you knew they were going to be good at mentoring kids."
Fluck, whose Burrs will vie for Class AA glory tomorrow versus Wilmington, spent the 1996 season with Brooks, as an offensive-line and defensive-ends coach. Three years later, he was tabbed as the head man at his alma mater.
"Brian had a great rapport with the kids," Brooks said. "The staff used to love when he talked to the kids, got them pumped up before games."
Tonight, Devlin and the Vikings will attempt to dethrone defending Class AAA state champion Thomas Jefferson. He spent seven seasons at 1733 West Girard Ave., leaving Brooks and company last year.
At the Prep from 2000 to 2006, Devlin started as a quarterbacks coach and was soon promoted to offensive coordinator.
Said Brooks, "Right away, he was always there - at workouts, watching game film, doing whatever was required."
Fluck, 38, graduated from West Catholic in 1988. He was an all-Catholic lineman for the Burrs and went on to play guard at Temple, under Jerry Berndt.
His first stint at 45th and Chestnut Streets was in the early 1990s, as an assistant under Ralph Rapino. He followed Rapino, ousted at West Catholic, to Radnor for the 1997 and 1998 seasons, serving as the Red Raiders' offensive coordinator.
There were lessons learned, both from Rapino and Brooks.
"Ralph had a passion for the game, really cared about the kids," Fluck said. "Gil is a fantastic tactician and great organizer."
While the Burrs have frolicked in the last three seasons, winning 34 of 40 games, it has not always been rosy for Fluck.
In 2001, his third season, West Catholic, with a season-ending roster of just 19 players, slumped to a 3-9 record.
"I tried hard to get the kids to play with pride and finish things out the right way," Fluck said. "That was a draining and disappointing season for me."
Off the field, Fluck is just as committed. Ask any of his former players. Players such as Michael Bazemore (Michigan State), Curtis "Boonah" Brinkley (Syracuse), and Derrell Hand (Notre Dame).
Wearing many hats, Fluck handles the driving on long road trips to distant colleges, offers never-ending advice and sometimes, when needed, serves as a surrogate father figure.
"I hope I've helped guide some of the kids to where they are now in life," he said. "I always tried to get them to look at the bigger picture, not just football."
After playing football at Archbishop Ryan (Class of 1989) and Lycoming, Devlin, 37, worked his way up the coaching ranks. His first stop was with the Somerton Youth Organization in the Far Northeast.
While at Somerton, Devlin wrote a letter of recommendation for a player who wished to attend and play football at the Prep. It was that letter to Brooks, coincidentally, that led to casual conversation about Devlin joining the Hawks.
That player ended up playing only freshman ball at the Prep. Devlin, though, had lasting power. He was part of four Catholic League Red Division championship teams.
"I owe a lot to Gil," Devlin said. "He's one of the best football guys I've ever been around. He's taught me the ins and outs of the game. I wouldn't be where I am without him."
Devlin is 21-5 in two seasons with the Vikings. Support comes from his wife, Sue, and three children: Joe, 20, Megan, 17, and Michael, 10. Following in his dad's footsteps, Joe is coaching football - and his brother Michael, a two-way back - at Somerton.
It must be noted that Devlin was not Archbishop Wood's first choice to replace Joe Powell, now at Upper Merion. After first naming a coach, school administrators had misgivings about their choice and re-opened the position. Enter Devlin.
"I wanted the job. I applied for it," Devlin said. "Once they gave it to me, I didn't care what the circumstances were. I just wanted to get in there and do a good job."