New Fox Chapel coach Loughran settles in as WPIAL football kicks off
Tom Loughran is a creature of habit, one who completes The New York Times crossword puzzle every Sunday, carries a rule book in his back pocket on Friday nights and wears a whistle around his neck.
But he retired his famous Spot-Bilt coaching shoes, the pair he won at a Johnny Majors coaching clinic in the mid-1970s and wore every Friday night since he became a head coach in 1983. After winning 186 games and two state championships in 32 seasons at South Park, Loughran is the new football coach at Fox Chapel.
Loughran wore new school colors and an air of optimism Monday, when high school football training camps officially opened across Western Pennsylvania with two-a-day practices in full pads.
“Having pads on for the first time in full gear was exciting for me,” said Loughran, 61, a retired math teacher. “It's a fresh start.”
Despite a dwindling population, this region prides itself as a hotbed for high school football. The first practice in full pads serves as a rite of passage for teenagers with dreams of playing for school pride and football glory under the Friday night lights.
When training camps opened, there were story lines all around the WPIAL. Two-time defending PIAA Class AA champion South Fayette began a quarterback competition to replace Brett Brumbaugh, the state's career passing leader. The winner inherits a 32-game winning streak, which ranks 10th nationally among active streaks.
Where defending WPIAL champions Pine-Richland, Central Valley and Clairton plotted title repeats, former arch-rivals Ford City and Kittanning merged to form the Armstrong High River Hawks.
With two victories, Jeannette will become only the second WPIAL school (New Castle is the other) and sixth in state history to win 700 games. Only 35 high schools in the country have reached that milestone.
And then there was Loughran, outlining for the Foxes his goals of winning conference, WPIAL and state championships in a community whose claim to football fame was that Aspinwall was the last team in WPIAL history to go undefeated, untied and unscored upon.
That was in 1943.
“We're blessed to have him,” Fox Chapel senior running back-safety Tommy Smith said. “I look at it as a breath of fresh air. It's something we've never heard before. It's great to hear, honestly. He knows what it takes, and it's great that he sees it in us.”
Don't bother reminding Loughran that Fox Chapel has never won a WPIAL football title since opening in 1961 and has reached the semifinals only twice. Loughran was told that South Park would never win, and he led undefeated teams to state titles in 1997 and 2005.
“I know things have changed a lot since I started coaching, but I don't think kids have changed,” Loughran said. “They want structure. They want discipline. They want standards. I told them, ‘I believe we're going to win. There's a lot of people that don't believe that. If you listen to them, we're not. If you listen to me, we've got a chance.'
“I don't want to change the culture. I want to create a culture.”
First, he had to create a playbook. Loughran has a simple approach to football, believing in the basics of blocking and tackling, and he didn't bother to draw down plays on paper the past 20 years.
“It was in my head,” Loughran said, tapping his forehead. “I know what I want to do and how I want to do it.”
But bringing together a new team and coaching staff, which includes former NFL lineman Reggie Wells from South Park's '97 champions and quarterback Connor Dixon from his '05 champions, forced Loughran not only to make a playbook but design one for the digital age.
“He's gotten into the pool gradually instead of doing a cannonball,” said Wells, who called following Loughran a “no-brainer.” “I took it as an opportunity to be around an expert in the game.”
Loughran didn't make Wells' workload any easier by leaving a Class AA Century Conference that produced two-time defending PIAA champion South Fayette for a Quad North that features the past two WPIAL Class AAAA champions in Central Catholic and Pine-Richland.
“I would think he steals a couple games,” said Central Catholic coach Terry Totten, who was a senior at Central when Loughran was the school's linebackers coach in 1975. “He's worth a couple of more wins to them.”
Loughran is worth more than that to Fox Chapel, athletic director Mike O'Brien said, by giving the Foxes instant credibility. He brings class and character to a school and a community that crave a winner.
“The guy is so detailed and well-respected,” O'Brien said. “When I first hired him, I can't tell you the number of phone calls, emails and texts I got, saying, ‘You got a great football coach and an even better person.' He's just a class person.”