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Holy Cross Coach-Perspective


Well-known member
Here's an article on the Holy Cross coach, which gives some perspective to football and life.

Ailing Coach's Removal Roils Holy Cross

Published: November 27, 2003

ORCESTER, Mass., Nov. 26 — The verdant, brick-lined campus of the College of the Holy Cross is behind iron gates atop one of seven hills in this dreary central Massachusetts city.

Known for distinguished alumni like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and for perpetuating the ideals of the college's Jesuit founders, Holy Cross now finds itself caught between ideology and athletics after it removed Dan Allen as football coach on Tuesday after eight years. Allen had continued coaching this season despite being almost physically incapacitated by a rare disease.

"For them to just come out and relieve him of his duties, it was a shocker," the senior wide receiver Ari Confesor said. "They preach to us community and family and how helping everyone out is the main thing in life. It just doesn't seem like that was the case here."

Allen, 47, has multiple chemical sensitivity, which has hounded him for almost two years, paralyzed parts of his body and forced him to use a wheelchair since the spring.

The disorder, which is caused by exposure to toxins, leaves him unable to perform everyday tasks like bathing and feeding himself. Still, Allen coached his team this season.

Assistants literally picked him up at his house in the morning and then carried him upstairs to the second-floor football offices. On the practice field, a manager drove him around in a golf cart, and the college built a special podium for him to coach from.

Three days after Holy Cross broke its records by finishing 1-11, losing 10 consecutive games and allowing 478 points, the college announced Allen's removal as coach.

Allen, who compiled a 26-63 record with the Crusaders, has one year remaining on his contract and is still an employee of the college.

Holy Cross's athletic director, Dick Regan, said those familiar with Allen's situation and Holy Cross football had applauded the move. He said he had received 10 to 15 e-mail messages complimenting his handling of the situation and not one e-mail message or phone call of outrage.

During the 2002 season, Allen took a leave of absence during October because of his illness. Regan said that when it became apparent last summer that Allen's health was deteriorating, a faction of people suggested that he was not capable of coaching.

Regan said that he and the university realized the importance of football to Allen and allowed him to continue through the season.

"I think we've been very compassionate," Regan said. "We're not chucking someone on the street."

Allen did not return a call seeking comment, and his assistant coaches, who are still employed by Holy Cross, were encouraged not to talk to reporters by the college.

The college's president, the Rev. Michael McFarland, refused to comment through a spokeswoman Wednesday, but he issued a statement on Tuesday citing the team's declining performance as the impetus for Allen's removal.

Allen was named New England coach of the year in 2000 after going 7-4, but Holy Cross slipped to 4-6 in 2001 and 4-8 in 2002.

Allen's players, however, saw beyond victories and losses. The junior wide receiver Tim McDonnell recalled the night before this season's opener at Lehigh, when Allen gathered his team in a conference room at a Holiday Inn in Bethlehem, Pa.

Allen, in front of the team, rose from his wheelchair with the help of the strength coach, Jeff Oliver, and leaned up against a podium.

"Many people said I'll never be able to stand again," Allen told his team. "If I can do it, there's no reason you guys can't go out and have a great season."

The players gave him a standing ovation.

"There weren't too many dry eyes in that room," McDonnell said. "Having Coach Allen put everything in perspective; leadership, character and never giving up. Those are things that we never would have learned if we were 11-1 and things came easy."

Allen's firing reverberated through the Patriot League, where football is played at the Division I-AA level and considered one of the last pure bastions of academics and athletics in college sports.

"I don't agree with Holy Cross's decision because I know how hard Dan worked," said Dick Biddle, the coach of Colgate, whose team won the Patriot League title this season. "I know the type of player he recruited. I don't know what they're looking for. You don't find a better person than Dan Allen to coach there."

The worry among the Holy Cross players is not about Allen's successor, but rather how their beloved coach will cope with life without football. In his fighting his illness, Allen used football as an inspiration, a distraction and a motivator.

His health may be improving. The Boston Globe reported Wednesday that Allen had recently crossed his legs, something not considered feasible just a few months ago.

"Coach Allen's life, except for his family, is football," the senior wide receiver Nick Larsen said. "It's going to be very difficult for him being away from the game now. It's difficult to think of him not being involved in football in any way. It's something so dear to him."