Lou Rabito: Keeping coach's legacy alive

Chichester coach Ryan Smith stepped into the job after the untimely death of coach Bob Shull from leukemia in June.
Chichester coach Ryan Smith stepped into the job after the untimely death of coach Bob Shull from leukemia in June.

Chichester builds and bonds, in memory of a lost mentor.

Posted: September 02, 2010

If life is fair on the high school football fields, the Chichester Eagles will win a few games this season.

Coming off a single victory in 2008, a winless 2009, and the sudden death of their new coach, the Eagles deserve some positives.

Ryan Smith, their newest coach, is poised to give them that. Having replaced Bob Shull, who died after a weeks-long battle with leukemia, Smith is working hard to keep alive Shull's legacy and build a program that Shull would be proud of.

Smith, in his second year with the Chichester varsity, knew Shull pretty well. They were assistant coaches at Springfield (Delco) in 2007. They reunited after Shull became the Eagles' coach in February and retained Smith as an assistant.

"Everything that Bob was about was just hard work and determination," Smith said. "I mean, he was just the ultimate. What I call him is a bulldog. And he was. He was a St. James guy. Whatever the odds were, whatever the situation was, he found a way to dig down deep and fight through it.

"The other unique thing about him was his ability to build relationships, with not only the players but the people around him. He truly was a guy who just brought people in, and you wanted to actually just stay on the side of him and talk to him."

Talk, they did. At two three-hour interviews before Shull determined that Smith was the right guy to be one of his assistants. Face-to-face at the team's Wednesday workouts in the gym. Over the phone. Through text messages and e-mails. Day after day, week after week, they talked as much as married couples do, Smith said.

And this was during football's off-season.

That went on for about three months. Then, a couple of days before a Wednesday workout, Shull called Smith and told him he couldn't attend the practice session. Shull said he was having some health issues.

Shull went to the next week's practice, and told his assistants that he had been diagnosed with leukemia. He said it matter-of-factly, Smith recalled.

That was the last time he saw Shull, who died on June 4.

"It was a football program that was sinking, and they were given new life with him," Smith said. "He was truly doing all the right things with these kids. And that was just another dagger to the heart.

"I knew at the time that he passed that there was nothing that was going to stop me from taking the program over, to carry through what he installed, and also for these kids. These kids deserve the best."

Shull, 37, left his mark on them, too. Dominick Scavicchio, a 5-foot-7, 210-pound center/linebacker, recalled Shull's drive and "his presence in the room."

The senior captain spoke of the weekly workouts, Shull coming to school in the morning to watch players work out in the weight room before class, and Shull's employing the Scavicchio landscape business to mow his lawn.

"It was unreal how we hadn't even known him for so long, but we got so close to him so fast," Scavicchio said.

The youngster's eyes welled up as he mentioned the possibility of honoring Shull with helmet decals displaying the letters "CS" (for Coach Shull). Smith said the team also is planning to honor Shull and his family.

A few victories would accentuate any tribute, of course.

But Smith, 31, a Sun Valley grad who played wide receiver at Western Maryland (now McDaniel), isn't making promises of wins and losses.

He has been working to change the culture of a team he said was beset by discipline and accountability problems, and he is confident he will succeed at that.

The Eagles have just 33 players. They're the smallest school in the Del-Val League, and Smith is installing a new offense, a spread to replace the triple option.

The climb might be steep, but don't count them out.

They don't have depth on their side.

They don't have recent history on their side.

But they have Bob Shull, and his bulldog determination, in their hearts.

Contact staff writer Lou Rabito at 215-854-2916 or rabitol@phillynews.com.

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