Although many football coaches parade around the practice field yelling and screaming at their players, Ron Cohen projects a cool, positive attitude. While his Washington High School Eagles ran drills on Oct. 23, he walked calmly from one group of players to the next, offering a pat on the helmet here, some kind words there.
"Take a lot of pride in what you do," said Cohen while his offense ran a few passing drills.
After his quarterback threw a tight spiral to an open receiver, he said: "We'll take that all day long."
Just one day later, Washington routed University City by a score of 39-0, bringing this year's record to 7-1. The victory was career win No. 214 for Cohen, extending his lead as the winningest coach in Philadelphia Public League history.
But, back in 1985, the idea of Washington becoming a dominant force in the league, and Cohen setting any kind of records, seemed remote indeed. After being promoted from his job as assistant coach, he was told by school officials that this new position was temporary, as they were on the lookout for a coach with some certifiable name recognition.
But that year, with virtually the same team running virtually the same plays, the Eagles were able to earn a record of 10-2 and a trip to the Public League championship. His team was, in fact, the first to beat powerhouse Frankford High School and the first to post double-digit victories in a single season.
"If I would have been 0-10, I wouldn't hold the city record now, that's for sure," he said, noting that the administration would not have asked him back for another season.
A Steady Hand at the Helm
Chuck Fowler, a nose guard on the '86 team, whose son is on this year's team, said that Cohen just made everyone more confident.
"It's like your grandfather coaching you," said Fowler. "It's like he wants you to win and do good, but he wants you to behave yourself at the same time. A lot of coaches don't care about that stuff, they just want to win."
Over the years, Cohen has seen two former players reach the National Football League — Bruce Perry, who played several years ago for the Philadelphia Eagles, and Jameel McClain, currently with the Baltimore Ravens. His best Jewish player, said Cohen, was Scott Rosen, a defensive back on the '86 team, who went on to star at the University of Maryland.
"They didn't think a white, Jewish kid could be that fast, but he was," said Cohen.
The team now has three Jewish players, which is about average overall for the Cohen years. One season, he even coached a Jewish quarterback and a Palestinian center.
"They became best of friends," said Cohen. "What's closer than a center to a quarterback? They depend on each other."
But coaching at a public school that accepts students from neighborhoods outside of the Far Northeast means dealing with the difficult realities of the inner city. In the last few weeks, Cohen has had one player who just found out that his father is facing 15 to 20 years in prison, and another team member who was recently shot. Luckily, the bullet just grazed the teen's forehead.
To help his players, Cohen often lets some out of practice early so they can care for younger brothers or sisters, and he also uses much of his own money to buy uniforms, food and equipment.
"My money, I spend with the kids," he said. "The school doesn't feed them, I feed them."