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Monroe delivers on promise to turn around South Allegheny football

| Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012, 10:24 p.m.
South Allegheny coach Pat Monroe is in his fourth year coaching the Gladiators. Ron Vezzani | For The Daily News
South Allegheny coach Pat Monroe will try to lead the Gladiators to the playoffs for the first time since 1986. Ron Vezzani | For The Daily News

More than one person probably thought Pat Monroe was crying wolf the last couple of years.

Before each season, he told people that his South Allegheny football team was very good and could compete for a playoff spot in the Century Conference. After a few injuries during the 2010 and 2011 seasons, however, the Gladiators took their lumps and finished 3-17 and well out of a postseason berth.

A few of those naysayers probably came out of the woodwork this season as well as, undaunted, Monroe was again outspoken about the talent level and potential of his team. And the doubters likely shook their heads again when the Gladiators were roiled up, 35-0, in a season-opening loss to Seton-La Salle.

Then a funny thing happened. South Allegheny did not lose a game until after it had clinched its first WPIAL Class AA playoff berth in 26 years.

Finally, the 2012 Daily News Coach of the Year had the last laugh.

“It took a little longer than we thought, but not because the kids didn't buy in,” Monroe said. “They were young and we frankly had as unlucky a group of kids as we could have had as far as injuries.”

Monroe came to South Allegheny a year after he lost his head coaching job when Duquesne closed and had moderate success as the team went 5-5 in 2008. Then came three very tough years, a winless 2009 campaign followed by a 2-8 year in 2010 and a 1-9 showing in 2011.

It was a tough time for a coaching staff used to playing at a high level at Duquesne. Before the program was disbanded along with the high school, the Dukes were perennial WPIAL Class A playoff contenders and had won a WPIAL championship and made a state finals appearance as recently as 2005.

“Coming into South Allegheny, we at least had the fortune of having the credibility coming from Duquesne and having success there, so it wasn't like we had to convince kids of anything,” Monroe said. “The first year we had success here because we were .500 with a veteran team, but after that we had a lot of younger guys and we were rebuilding from that point.”

It all finally came together after that loss to Seton-La Salle. South Allegheny (7-3) won its next seven games — its first seven-game winning streak since 1986 — and became the team Monroe believed it could be. During that string, the Gladiators' defense did not allow more than 14 points in any game and, with a win over Keystone Oaks on Oct. 12, the team officially ended its 26-year postseason absence.

“We always knew we were a good team, and it was hard for us to lose because we knew we were better than that,” senior running back Keaton McClelland said. “Going through all the years like that and then having the year we had, it felt great. He knew we could do it and he just needed to get us to do it.”

Even though the season ended with a 40-7 loss to Jeannette in the opening round of the WPIAL Class AA playoffs, the players were happy to finally end their long string of futility. And they fully realize that Monroe was a huge reason for their success, both on the field and off.

“It's been an honor playing under him, and he's taught me so much more than I ever thought about playing football and he's always been there for any student that had any problem,” quarterback Dustin Anderson said. “He's better than just a coach. He's a mentor for all of us.”

Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kbarnes@tribweb.com or 412-664-9161 Ext. 1977.

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