Former Slippery Rock head football coach George Mihalik would tell all of his players when they first stepped foot on the field as a member of the program, ‘once you wear the green and white, you will always be a part of the green and white’.
For some, it could mean donating money and getting your name put on one of the plaques recognizing all of the donors as you enter the locker room. For others, it could be in the bleachers or at home cheering the next generations of hopeful champions on. But, for people like ex-Rock star linebacker Quindell Dean, he is on the sideline coaching his alma mater.
“I bleed green and white,” Dean said. “When they called me and gave me the opportunity to come back and coach, it really meant a lot.”
Dean, a transfer student from the University of Toledo, was an All-American his senior year and two-time all-conference selection during his time at SRU. During his four years as a player, he played in 44 games, totaling 239 tackles, 9 sacks, and 3 interceptions. In 2015 he returned back to the Rock as a graduate assistant on the coaching staff and is now the defensive backs coach.
Going on three years of not playing, Dean finds himself coaching some of his old teammates. Once a team captain, Dean finds himself in the leadership role again in front of some familiar faces and hasn’t lost any respect. He has gained more in his eyes, he said, and that’s because of what he had done on the field.
“I don’t talk at players, I talk to them,” Dean said. “I think people who did know me respected me from the gate.”
In most cases, this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity that most players don’t get, but for The Rock, it seems to be the norm. Dean is one of four former SRU linebackers on the coaching staff. He is joined by Rock head coach Shawn Lutz’s successor and defensive coordinator Domenick Razzano, defensive linemen coach Mike Grata, and assistant linebackers coach Teven Williams. Razzano played his last season for the Rock in 2008, while Grata and Williams played their last games in green and white last season.
Some would call it irony that all the coaches played linebackers, but these ex-players believed this is what Rock linebackers were prepared for. Williams, an All-American in 2015 after his transfer from Youngstown State University, said that it’s the standard for SRU linebackers.
“Linebacker is a position in which you have to be very knowledgeable,” Williams said. “As you can see, it’s trend that transfers right into coaching.”
Grata may have been even more prepared by his coaches than Williams even though they played side-by-side. A team captain on a Rock football team that made it to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II national playoffs, Grata said the coaches kept him close to them which helped him to better understand the game.
“My senior year, the defensive staff allowed me to be in the room on Mondays when they game planned,” Grata said.
All of these coaches are very different in their own way and express themselves differently, but no matter how they say it, they all agree that their love for the Rock hasn’t changed. Razzano, the oldest of the group, says that the only difference since he graduated, is the university’s appearance.
“The standard for Rock football hasn’t changed” Razzano said. “The campus has changed, but Slippery Rock is still Slippery Rock.”
These four players were never all teammates at the same time. Last season was the closest they have ever been with two players on the team and two on staff. Even though they may have not have all been able to call one another a teammate, they have all been able to call Lutz ‘coach’ at one point.
Lutz said he enjoyed having all of them as players, but was unaware of the common bond between the four coaches. He said the fact that they were Rock football players was not the only reason they hold the positions they do.
“You want the most qualified guys,” Lutz said. “They’re great people, they know the game of football, but most importantly they know what we are all about.”
Having a staff that has been through the program to teach it has shown to be an effective way for the Rock to excel through Division II football over the last couple of years. With the trend of the SRU staff being linebackers, the doors are open for players in their last year such as senior linebacker Bob Vernick or redshirt senior linebacker Anthony Zappone to be the next linebacker to convert from a player to coach at his alma mater.