Forget about the game. Joe Gro alone was worth the price of admission.

Gro would prowl the sideline, get involved in lively discussions with his fellow coaches, and regularly venture well out onto the field to implore his players to be more disciplined or give an official a piece of his mind.

He was as animated and vocal as they come. But he was genuine and likeable. The outbursts and screaming came from a good place - and his players and assistants knew it.

Now, after 29 seasons of pouring his heart into the game and his players, Gro has stepped down as Cheltenham's head football coach.

"It's just time," Gro, 63, said. "In all honesty, I was going to leave after the 2015 season. But the players were such nice boys. I decided I would do one more year."

Gro spent a total of 30 years coaching at Cheltenham, where he is a health and physical education teacher. Before that, he coached for five years at Glen Mills.

"I always appreciated his honesty," Cheltenham athletic director John Creighton said. "He never beat around the bush about something, whether it was good, bad, or ugly."

Gro, of Drexel Hill, is in his 37th year as a teacher. He previously served as a disciplinarian and tutor in an alternative education program.

In his final season, the Panthers went 3-8 overall and 2-5 in the Suburban One League American Conference.

"It was cyclical with us," Gro said. "We would be down for a year or two and then we'd be back up."

In 1995, Gro guided Cheltenham to a 9-1 mark in the regular season and one of only four PIAA District 1 Class 4A playoff berths. The Panthers fell to bitter SOL Liberty Division rival Plymouth Whitemarsh, 16-0, in a semifinal.

"As a coaching staff, we worked harder than anyone," Gro said. "We gave the kids all we could offer."

Two of Gro's players, running back Chad Levitt (class of 1993, Cornell) and speedy defensive back Brandon Bing (2007, Rutgers) went on to play in the NFL for the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants, respectively.

"I've been really lucky," Gro said. "I've coached some wonderful kids."

Gro played football at Springfield (Delaware County). From there, as a 6-foot-3, 220-pound defensive end, he made three stops: Chowan Junior College in Virginia; Maryland; and Elon. He also had a tryout with the Canadian Football League's Ottawa Rough Riders.

At Cheltenham, Gro's loyal assistants included Ed Morby, Ron Perlstein, Ken Adams, and Sid Morse. Morby, who coached the offensive and defensive linemen, was there for Gro's entire head coaching tenure.

Gro's rants during a game were often directed at Perlstein, who worked with the quarterbacks and defensive backs. "I enjoyed yelling at Perlstein," he said with a laugh. "He deserved it."

What will Gro, a father of four and grandfather of two, do without football?

"I've been doing this since my mid-20s, so it's going to be strange," he said. "One thing I'd like to do is travel. I haven't been to a lot of places. And I'll get a chance to spend more time with my family."

@ozoneinq