By Jean DePlacido
Dave St. Pierre went out for football at St. John's Prep for the first time as a junior. When he saw the man who would be his head coach, Fred Glatz, in action during preseason camp, his first impression was simple.
"I thought he was absolutely nuts," said St. Pierre, now an orthopedic surgeon with offices in Danvers and Salem.
"Fred was strict and ran things like a marine drill sergeant, always yelling at you with such intensity and emotion. He always called you by your last name, and any time he did it was usually because you did something he didn't like.
"Fred is the most disciplined guy I ever met in the way he ran his team and his life. I've known him 40 years and I still think Fred is a little bit nutty — but it's a good nutty. He was one of the old school guys and if you did what you were supposed to do, you had the feeling you would win nine out of 10 times no matter how big or good the other team was."
One of the most successful football coaches in North Shore history, Glatz directed the Eagles of St. John's Prep for 17 seasons (1967-83), compiling a 105-41-7 record and the best winning percentage (.709) in school history.
His first team, in 1967, won a state championship after going 9-0-0, and his second-to-last club — with his two sons playing key roles — won a Super Bowl crown in 1982, the same year he was named Division 2 Coach of the Year.
Glatz was elected into the Massachusetts State Coaches Hall of Fame seven years later, and is in the St. John's Prep Hall of Fame as both a coach and athletic director.
A Pittsburgh native, Glatz came to St. John's a year after the Eagles went 8-0-1 under Paul "Buster" DiVincenzo and won the Class C title. A majority of the players from that team had graduated, but Glatz was undeterred; he predicted greatness for his team right away — and delivered.
"There was a press conference when I came, and I was a little brash, Glatz, now 77, admits. "I said Buster had left the door open for me to go unbeaten, which we did. But that was before I met the kids; they were not very big at all. I took a look at one of the captains, John Webb, who was a two-way guard. He was real short and about 180 pounds, but he turned out to be a helluva football player. Our other captain, Steve Harrison, was small, too — but he was quick.
"Buster's plays went left-to-right, and mine were left for odd numbers, right for even. I wanted the 31 trap to go left, but Buster's might be to the outside. I didn't want a situation to come up during a game where the kids got confused, so I threw out all the numbers. We had screen left, drive right, drive left etc. They were smart kids and learned the new system quickly." Harrison, who grew up in Danvers and now lives in Peabody, recalls the new coach looking stunned when he first saw his team.
"He had a deer-in-the-headlights look," said Harrison, who went on to play at Harvard. "We were small and ugly; what a big difference from UMass (where Glatz had previously coached) to us. Plus, he had a hard act to follow after Buster's undefeated season. There was real talent on the offensive and defensive lines my junior year, but everybody had graduated. The only two starters back were Webb and me. He had to plug in the whole defense except for us — and he did an incredible job."
Glatz made sure early on he wouldn't have any problems as far as interference with his team.
"I set the standard with the parents my first day coaching at St. John's. I turned around in the middle of explaining something, and there were 6-7 people right behind me. I asked what they were doing on the field, and the answer was 'watching practice,'" Glatz recalled.
"'Well, you have to stand behind that fence, not on our field,' I said. They went over where I told them, and we moved as far away from that fence as we could on the old practice field. I didn't want to have to chew out a player while his father was right there.
"All the years I coached at St. John's, discipline wasn't a problem. That was a blessing because I can't remember ever having many discipline problems; the kids were great."
The legend begins
Glatz came to St. John's Prep having begun his coaching career as a graduate assistant coach at his alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh, while getting a master's degree. He then coached at Army, UMass-Amherst, Boston College and back with the Minutemen before setting foot on the Danvers campus.
DiVincenzo, who was the Prep's athletic director, hired Glatz and made the correct choice to keep the program going in the right direction.
"I was a strict coach and he carried that on; he always laid it right on the line," said DiVincenzo. "We had started building the football program up - my first year coaching in 1962 we only had 22 kids out when St. John's was a boarding school. Fred came in and carried on the tradition of winning I had started with our '65 and '66 teams. It's so important to hire the right man, and we got a gem in Fred. He mastered the whole philosophy of St. John's Prep by asking a lot of questions that first year."
Despite having what Harrison called "no size, no experience, a new coach and new assistants," Glatz made it all work in that first season as a legend was born.
"I'd have to say Fred did an incredible job to win all nine games. He taught us how to reduce the silly penalties and make fewer mistakes."
Practices planned to the last detail
Pat Yanchus began coaching with Glatz in 1971 and is still on staff under current Prep head coach Jim O'Leary.
"Fred was always bigger than life with a tremendous personality," said Yanchus, the Prep's long-time baseball coach and football assistant. "He had an amazing knowledge of football, and he was a great scouter. We'd go to see a team, and by the second half he'd start calling their plays. And he was a real stickler for fundamentals. We always worked on stance and techniques; it paid off in the end because of his insistence of doing things right."
Yanchus said organization was a huge part of Glatz's coaching style. His practice schedules were broken down into 15 minute segments, and when the time was up he'd blow his whistle, everybody would have to stop what they were doing and move on to the next segment.
"Sometimes it would run over, but that was only when Fred wasn't satisfied with how his drill was going. Every last detail was always accounted for," Yanchus said.
Harrison still remembers the two-hour long practices with no down time whatsoever. Glatz, he said, seemed ahead of his time in terms of organization for practice.
"Fred's practices were orchestrated down the last detail - all 120 minutes," Harrison said. "He scripted them and didn't waste a second. He was a good teacher — not a screamer, which was in vogue back then.
"You might think you were doing a good job, but then you'd hear him call out "Harrison" which meant you had made a mistake. That was something you dreaded. He expected the best from everybody; that's what it took for the team to be successful."
Son of the Steel City
Glatz was born in Pittsburgh, went on to star at the University of Pittsburgh and wound up playing defensive end for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
When former St. John's Prep quarterback Brian St. Pierre was drafted by the Steelers after a stellar career as Boston College, he went into the team offices at Heinz Field to sign his contract, and looking around spotted a picture of Glatz in a team shot hanging on the wall with the same crewcut his has now.
"When Brian called me that night, he mentioned seeing coach Glatz's picture and I asked what he looked like when he was young. Brian told me he looked just like what he looks now," joked Dr. St. Pierre.
"When I was playing in college (at Harvard) I ran into lots of coaches, and everyone knew who Fred Glatz was. They might not have known him personally, but the impression was you had a good background if he had coached you."
Glatz was a no-nonsense coach who went about the business of building a winning football team at St. John's. But he gives credit to his assistant coaches for helping to build that winning tradition.
"I was fortunate to have some great assistants working with me — Brian Flatley, John Westfield, Pat Yanchus and Brother Linus, with (current head coach) Jim O'Leary coming in a little later. They helped me with the offense and defense, doing whatever was necessary," said Glatz.
Coaching his sons
Some of the fondest memories Glatz has with the Eagles were the opportunities to coach his two sons. David was a member of the Class of 1983 who went on to play at Wesleyan, while Bobby graduated the following year and later was the starting running back at Harvard.
Initially, Glatz was hesitant to start David at end, but was convinced by O'Leary to do so. "Jim said he was the best end we had, and we needed to play him so he started from his freshman year on," Glatz said.
In 1982, the Glatz brothers helped the Eagles win the Division 1 Super Bowl, beating Whitman Hanson, 7-0, on a David Glatz touchdown to finish the season 9-0-1. Yanchus pointed out both Whitman-Hanson and Winthrop were 10-0, but St. John's was ranked higher in the state's point system because they had beaten a bunch of previously undefeated teams.
"We had thrown a pass (in the Super Bowl) that was incomplete, and I decided to run the same play again. The second time it worked," Glatz said. "Bobby was a junior that year and played more on defense. I remember he had a key interception to stop a drive."
Bobby Glatz said his father was always a pretty strict parent, so at an early age he had an idea what playing for him was going to be like.
"He was very clear as to his expectations for all his players on and off the field," Bobby Glatz said. "I'd guess he wanted to make sure nobody could ever accuse him of playing favorites with his sons, so he was probably a little tougher on my brother Dave. Anyone who ever played for him would agree that he was pretty tough on everyone.
"The true highlight of the whole experience, though, was watching my Dad interact with all the guys on the team. He was a disciplinarian, yes, but he also had a knack of finding a way to get the most out of everyone and to get guys to work together as teammates."
Bobby said his father always had the players' rapt attention whenever he gave one of his notable pregame or halftime speeches.
"Those speeches were unlike anything else I have experienced in life," said Bobby Glatz, who has been Executive Director of the Harvard Varsity Club for the past 14 years. "He would have our entire locker room hanging on his every word — you could hear a pin drop. He would get everyone so fired up that his talks might have had a bigger impact on us than the whole week of practice; they were that powerful."
Life after coaching
When his sons finished playing for St. John's and their college game times conflicted with the Eagles' own contests, Glatz had a decision to make — one that Yanchus said he agonized over.
On the one hand, Glatz didn't want to retire. But realistically, he knew that his sons played on Saturday afternoons — the same time as most of the Prep games. In the end, he called his choice to step down after the 1983 season "the best decision I ever made."
" I enjoyed watching them play much more than anything in my own playing career," Glatz said. "I was at one game at Wesleyan when David did something big. I couldn't believe it when a guy behind me stood up, and yelled 'Glatz is God.'
"What made both David and Bob special players was how hard they worked. A lot of kids have natural ability, but don't do the extra work. They were willing to put the extra time in.
"We traveled all over to games; sometimes it was a question of flipping a coin, but we went to David's if there was a conflict because he was the oldest," Glatz added. "We figured we'd have another year to see Bob."
Glatz is proud of the fact he was able to enjoy the games as a fan. He didn't indulge in second-hand coaching - well, not most of the time.
"I tried not to second guess the coaches' decisions ... and if I did it was only a little to my wife," said Glatz, who remained on as athletic director at St. John's until his retirement, when O'Leary took over. "That was all right, because she didn't know what I was talking about."
Yanchus said Glatz remained very involved behind the scenes and still helped the coaches on a regular basis after retiring. To this day he's still very much a part of the athletic scene at the Prep, and on any Saturday during football season can be found in the press box at Cronin Field running the scoreboard and watching the Eagles carry on that winning tradition.
"Fred and his wife Joan are great people," said Yanchus. "They were mentors to me and my wife Cathy. We live in the same town and he's had my family over to his pool many times.
"He never stops working around his yard, and recently cut off the tops of all the trees around his pool so there would be more sun. There was Fred up on a ladder with his chainsaw, doing the job himself.
"There's no question he's one of a kind."
Fred Glatz By the Numbers
17 — Years as head coach at St. John's Prep (1967-83)
105 — Career victories at St. John's Prep
.709 — Winning percentage with the Eagles