Denny Douds will walk into Eiler-Martin Stadium on Saturday just as he has done on so many other Saturday afternoons over the course of his 38-year career at East Stroudsburg.
Only this time, history will be walking alongside the veteran coach. Douds will be on the sidelines coaching the 394th game of his career, the most by any coach in NCAA Division II history.
Funny thing is, Douds, who began as an assistant at ESU in 1966, had no idea he was flirting with the record until someone brought it up to him earlier this month.
“I didn’t even know it until about 10 days ago,” Douds said. “It just means I am an old guy. It’s an honor but I’m not too worried about records. I am focused on preparing my team to win a football game against Millersville this week. That is my main concern.”
ESU is currently 1-6 overall and 0-4 in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. It’s a rare difficult season for Douds, who took over as the head coach here in 1974. In that remarkable stretch of time, he has won 230 games and has led the Warriors to nine PSAC championshps and four trips to the DII playoffs.
But it’s not the wins, the championships or the postseason berths that define Douds as a coach, and more importantly, as a person.
In the mind of offensive coordinator Mike Terwilliger, it’s all about the impact Douds has had on his life and the lives of so many others.
Terwilliger has been at ESU for the last 38 years. He started out as quarterback for the Warriors and remained on staff after graduation. His son, Jimmy, won the 2005 Harlon Hill Trophy, which is awarded to the best player in D-II football.
“Coach Douds has tremendous values and he has been able to deal with people from all walks of life in a positive way,” Mike Terwilliger said. “His influence on others has been amazing, and I’ve been fortunate to be around him for such a long time. His longevity in this game is impressive and he still has the same competitive fire today that he had in 1974.”
Douds turned 70 in January, but being a year older has not slowed him down. He still gets out of bed in the morning excited about going to work. And as long as he continues to feel that way, he won’t walk away from the game he loves anytime soon.
Age really is just a number to Douds.
“I love what I do, and I enjoy the opportunity to work with people and work in a highly competitive atmosphere,” Douds said. “I also enjoy the challenges of the job. You put in the work every week to be successful, and you believe that if you prepare the right way, you will succeed. But you never know what is going to pop up. There is always a challenge. It makes football more exciting.”
While the challenges change from year to year, the approach Douds takes to coaching has stayed the same.
“The most important part of a football program is the people who are in it,” Douds said. “I have a very simple way of dealing with people. I look at my players and expect the same things out of them as I would expect from my own kids. I want my players to be accountable for their actions on and off the field and be the best they can possibly be in life.”
All someone has to do is look at what Douds has done in his career to see he has accomplished that goal.
In his career, Douds has coached 337 All-PSAC selections, 23 AP Little All-America selections, five American Football Coaches Association selections and five Harlon Hill finalists.
There is no question that his players have excelled off the field as well. Douds has coached six academic All-Americans and 18 academic all-district selections.
“He has so much passion for what he does, and it shows in the success his players have had on the field and in life,” Terwilliger said. He is a great family man, and he truly does run his program like a family. He cares about the players and he wants the best for all of them. He is a special coach and a special person.”
To understand the influence Douds has had on the lives of others, consider the impact the legendary coach has had on all three of Terwilliger’s children.
His oldest daughter is an assistant coach on the Ohio field hockey team. His other daughter is still in school at ESU, but also coaches junior high basketball.
Terwilliger said the success of his children is due, in part, to the impact Douds had on their lives.
“It shows you how powerful his influence is, even to people outside the football program,” Terwilliger said. “My kids were very lucky they had a chance to be around him. He truly made a difference in their lives just as he made a difference in mine.”
As Douds prepared to wrap up his phone interview on Monday, he brought up a story about one of his friends who climbed Mount Everest. He said it made him think about how you just have to go out and find a way to get something done, regardless of how challenging it is.
Douds has certainly done a lot in his life, and while the opportunity to break an NCAA record on Saturday is one more accomplishment on a list full of them, the long-time coach didn’t seem too overwhelmed about his looming date with history.
“I’ll probably look back one day and think about the record and the lives I‘ve been able to have an impact on, but right now the most important thing to me is coaching our next game. Once the ball is kicked off, it will feel like just another game.”
The walk Douds will take with history into the stadium, however, will be a reminder that the PSAC encounter with Millersville is indeed more than just another game.
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