The Final Whistle

Published 8:48 pm Friday, January 17, 2014

Longtime Ahoskie and Hertford County High School football coach Daryl Allen is shown here directing his players during a practice session. Allen, twice retired from coaching football and ranked in the top-six statewide for career victories, died on Wednesday at the age of 76. File Photo

Longtime Ahoskie and Hertford County High School football coach Daryl Allen is shown here directing his players during a practice session. Allen, twice retired from coaching football and ranked in the top-six statewide for career victories, died on Wednesday at the age of 76. File Photo

AHOSKIE – As a football coach he taught his troops to play hard, and play fair, until the whistle was blown.

In life, Daryl Allen played by the same set of rules.

The final whistle sounded for Coach Allen on Wednesday – leaving former players, coaching colleagues and others whose lives were impacted by this man to mourn his loss.

Coach Daryl Allen

Coach Daryl Allen

Allen devoted more than a half-century to directing the football fortunes at Erwin, Ahoskie and Hertford County high schools, compiling 306 wins in the process, an effort that ranks sixth all-time in the state of North Carolina. He never really retired from coaching….helping his son, Eddie, at HertfordCountyMiddle School later in life.

His Ahoskie/HCHS teams won seven outright conference championships, and participated in nearly 40 state play-off games, to include winning four Eastern State titles (1974, 1979 and 1986 at Ahoskie High and 1988 at HCHS).

Nearly 70 of his former players went on to play college football, three of which made it to the NFL – Timmy Newsome (Dallas Cowboys), Bobby Futrell (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Sam Harrell (Minnesota Vikings). Another former player, Greg Harrell, later became a member of the U.S. Olympic Bobsled team.

Newsome, who played nine seasons (1980-88) with the Cowboys and remains in Dallas as a successful businessman, said Allen was the man responsible for laying the foundation on which he could build.

“I left Ahoskie High School prepared to expect and face the challenges of college, and then professional football due in part to Coach Allen’s basic understanding of his attention to detail and in the way he wanted me to lead a quality life,” said Newsome on Friday as he preparing to leave Dallas to attend his high school mentor’s funeral today (Saturday). “Coach Allen provided a solid foundation, not only for me but the countless other former student-athletes at AhoskieHigh School. I will miss him dearly.”

“His offensive philosophy, though simplistic in concept, provided a great framework on how his teams could build momentum for moving the football up and down the field with impunity,” Newsome added. “I will never forget the year (1975) we held all but two teams scoreless during the regular season.”

Many of his former players followed Allen into the coaching ranks, including current Hertford County High School skipper Scott Privott.

“To me he was a legend,” said Privott. “He was a mentor to me over the last five years that I’ve been the head football coach here at Hertford County High, and I had a chance to play for him when I was in high school.  Back then he was a hard-nosed football coach, a disciplinarian; but he always had the kids’ best interest at heart.  He taught us how to be men at a young age and how to handle certain situations.”

That “coaching” never stopped.

“When I became a coach he would give me subtle advice, come in and sit in on our coaches meetings and just give us his insight,” Privott said. “After a couple of losses he might say, ‘Don’t let it get you down, you’ve just got to keep coaching’. He was upbeat like that because he loved Hertford County football.  Back in November when we were down in Jacksonville (against Northside in the state playoffs) he would just tell us to ‘Go get ‘em, you know what you’ve got to do’. Kind of tough to believe that two months later he’s not with us anymore.”

“Next to my father, Coach Allen is probably the most influential man in my life; he was truly a father-figure,” said Greg Watford, former Ahoskie High player and current day assistant football coach at Southeast Halifax High School. “It was a privilege for him to coach me, my oldest son, and my youngest son.

“Even after my playing days and into my coaching career we had remained close,” added Watford, who once served as head coach at West Carteret, Northampton-East, Hertford County and Bertie. “Just look at the guys he coached that went on to become coaches. Among the lessons he taught me was to play the game with class, poise, and dignity.  He had little sayings like, ‘Be agile, mobile and hostile’ and ‘Let your play on the field show who you are.’  I hope one day they’ll name the stadium at the school after him.”

Allen got his start in Ahoskie in 1970, serving as an assistant on the staff of head coach Al Vaughan. The team won the North Carolina state championship the same year.

When Vaughan retired from coaching in 1971, Allen took the reins of the gridiron program and Ahoskie High never skipped a beat.

“What many of us have forgotten is that Coach Allen followed Al Vaughan who was a legend in his own right…that was a tough act to follow, but he did it with what we all learned about Coach Allen…he was a class act,” said Gattis Hodges, the “Voice of the Bears” on WDLZ-FM.

“He had such great coaching instincts; he could see the little things that most coaches miss,” Hodges continued. “No matter which team you rooted for on the field, you had to admire what he did. His kids played hard, and they played fair, and Coach Allen was always a gentleman, win or lose.”

Allen was the State Coach of the Year in the 1980’s, served as head coach of the East team in the 1984 NCHSAA State All-Star Game, and is a member of both the North Carolina Football Coaches Hall of Fame and the Chowan University/Jim Garrison Sports Hall of Fame.

“We coached together for more than 40 years, but first and foremost I considered him as my friend,” said retired AHS/HCHS coach and Athletic Director Richard Murray. “What was so great about Daryl was that he led by example. He never had a harsh word for anyone and we never had an argument during our many years together.

“We were fortunate in the fact that we enjoyed many, many successful seasons and Daryl’s won-loss record speaks for that,” Murray continued. “But to him, the wins were not that important. What pleased him more was how he was able to help, off the field, the thousands of young student-athletes that came through our football program over the years. I’ll miss my friend, but so will thousands of others whose lives he helped shape.”

Another individual interacted with Allen in a different way on the gridiron.

“I had the opportunity to officiate some of the Ahoskie High and Hertford County High games,” said NCHSAA sanctioned football referee Charles Freeman. “It’s not a guarded secret that game officials and football coaches often do not see things the same way, but it was different with Daryl. He never hollered at me, rather he would ask what did I see when I threw a flag (for a rule violation). He wanted that information from me so he could in turn use it as a teaching tool for his players.

“He was always under control and expected his players to do so as well,” Freeman added. “He had such a big influence on the lives of young men who passed through his football program. Personally I wish there were more coaches with the poise and character of Daryl Allen. He treated everyone with respect.”

Freeman also mentioned Allen’s deep commitment to his faith, noting his involvement at First Baptist Church of Ahoskie.

“His interests peaked with his family, his church, his community and his football team. The way he was on the sideline is the same way he was in life…everything organized and under control,” Freeman said.

Respect for Allen came from opposing coaches as well.

“I had the highest respect for Daryl,” said now retired Bertie High School coach Ron Cooke. “We were good friends, and remained that way even though we were at rival schools. I would pull for him and his team except for that one Friday night of the year when we stood on opposite sidelines on the same field. He always did a great job with his players.”

Cooke added, “The coaching family is a special group….most folks don’t know what you go through on and off the field except for another coach. Daryl knew that and would offer help in any way I needed it….and that help went both ways.”

Two of Allen’s former players traced the success of their current careers to the valuable lessons learned under Coach Allen.

“He was just wonderful,” stated Johnny Sessoms, Pharmacist at DrugCo of Ahoskie. “He could see things in us as children and was able to put us in the right place at that time; he will be missed.

“Eddie (Daryl’s son) was my first coach in middle school and then Coach Allen in high school,” Sessoms continued. “The stories he told never changed over 20 years. We may have gotten tired of hearing them, but they put you in the right direction. When it came to teaching fundamentals, he was one of the best coaches in the state. And there was nothing like playing for the Ahoskie Cougars back in those days. Nothing.”

Brian Overton, Director of Football Operations at East Carolina University, played quarterback for Coach Allen when he was lured out of retirement and returned to the HCHS sidelines in 1997.

“He brought back a lot of credibility and stability to the program,” Overton recalled. “We won 11 games that year and that shows the immediate respect we all had for him to turn it around that fast. It was just a real smooth transition because it shows he didn’t forget how to do it (coaching).  He trusted me and taught me a lot about the game when I became a starter.

“We kept in touch after I went off to college and when I came back I spent a lot of time with him. How you carry yourself off the field meant a lot to him, and that’s what I try to on today when dealing with kids and parents,” Overton concluded.

Current day HCHS Athletic Director and head men’s basketball coach Charles Simmons was still “wet behind the ears” when he first arrived in Ahoskie decades ago.

“I coached jayvee football my first year here of teaching and Daryl was one of those who gave me an opportunity,” Simmons noted. “He became a real good friend, and a close friend.  After he retired he would come by here almost every day and check on me, check on the football team or basketball program, just to see how we did, or how the kids did.  He attended all the football games and as many home basketball games as he could, and he made quite a few away football games. When I was coaching during the basketball season, Daryl and coach Richard (Murray) were the type who took care of a lot of things so I could just coach.

“It’s going to be a lot different not seeing him on Friday night, not seeing him in the gym, and not seeing him stop by my office. It’s a sad day for HertfordCountyHigh School and Bear Nation,” Simmons added.

Coach Allen leaves a wife, two daughters, a son, seven grandchildren and one great grandchild to mourn his loss. Memorial services are scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 18, at First Baptist Church of Ahoskie.