Mention his numerous awards, and football coach Chuck Lenahan will quickly point out that the sea of trophies and mounted plaques are tributes to his dedicated players, assistant coaches and an administration that has proudly stood behind Plymouth Regional High School’s athletic programs.
Lenahan refuses to take all the credit for his success on the gridiron at the New Hampshire school. The modest Mechanic Falls native doesn’t strut or brag about his stellar coaching career that spans 42 years — all at Plymouth.
When you speak to Lenahan, you notice there is not a hint of arrogance from the winningest high school coach in New England.
There are two things that really matter to this diligent Bobcat skipper — pride and tradition — a motto that defines a school that puts its students first, on and off the playing field.
Pride and tradition are just two reasons why Lenahan will be inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame on June 27 in Denver, Colo.
After it was announced that Lenahan would be inducted along with Washington Redskins all-pro quarterback Joe Theismann and Los Angeles Clippers’ guard Chauncey Billups, the Plymouth football coach has been in front of cameras or fielding congratulatory messages from around the country.
Lenahan, his wife, Carol, and their daughter, Bridget will be heading west to attend the induction. They wouldn’t miss this event for the world.
“If there is any coach that deserves it, it is definitely him, not only for his career, but for his mentality, personality, basically striving toward excellence,” said Charlie Donahue, a Bates College junior kicker who played one year for Lenahan. “He is a coach that is real big on pride and tradition. Obviously, he is a very winning coach. He believes in pride in the community and carrying that on to the football field.”
He is the third New Hampshire coach to be inducted into this Hall of Fame, and while it is an honor, Lenahan, who is also the school’s athletic director, downplays the notoriety and hoopla that accompanies this accolade.
“People who know me, I just go, ‘Yeah, OK, good,'” Lenahan said. “But deep down, you can’t help but feel proud. But like I said, it is a great program and I like seeing Plymouth football being recognized.
“I truly believe it is a reflection on the kids in the program. I know the kids are pretty proud of it because they had a part in it.
“When you have been around long enough, you should win something. But in 2004, and again in 2012, I was named the National Football Coach of the Year. I thought that was pretty high honors, something that meant an awful lot to me, the kids and the program.”
Lenahan’s brother, Francis, could not be more proud of his brother.
“The kids and everybody plays their hearts for that boy,” Francis Lenahan said. “He is quite a coach.
“I wish my father was here. My father, Francis Lenahan Sr., and my mother, Josephine, they used to go up to his ball games every chance they could.”
Lenahan’s numbers have added up since he began coaching at Plymouth in 1971.
His career record now stands at 345-69-1. What is not revealed in a career record that would make any coach envious is that the Bobcats went undefeated in 13 of those seasons and rattled off 44- and 57-game winning streaks.
But wait, there’s more.
Under the current playoff system, Lenahan and his ravenous Bobcats have won 19 state championships and ended up runners-up 11 times. That means Plymouth has been to the title game in 30 of the 41 years he has been coaching.
“That’s pretty damn good,” Lenahan said.
“He is the real McCoy, the real McCoy,” said Bruce Parsons, who has been the principal at Plymouth for the past 22 years. “I’ve been in education for 40 years, but I have never met an individual who gets what he gets out of kids.
“How do you get that enthusiasm every year? He is here seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day. He is a tough coach to coach against because of his homework.
“We have been underdogs half the championships we were there. He has these kids believing they can win, but they are classy kids, too. The team here is called pride and tradition. He brought that to the school. It is an emblem you see throughout Plymouth High. We run the school on that.”
Parsons toiled for hours to complete the 50-page application to nominate his beloved and respected coach.
“When the guy called me, I almost fell on the floor,” Parsons recalled. “He is going in with Joe Theismann and a few others. It is a big deal.”
No secret to his success
Lenahan’s game plan is simple — keep the ball on the ground and pass as a last resort.
“Most of the time, we will be double tight, and I will tell you up front, we are running, so here we come,” Lenahan said. “Going to the air, six things can happen, and five of them bad.
“I remember one championship game, we threw the ball five times. We went five for five, and after the game, the coach was shaking his head, saying we just didn’t think you would throw it that much. One year, we went the entire season without a turnover — 11 and 0 — no turnovers. It’s amazing.”
Lenahan is also godfather to Donahue, whose dad, Tom, has coached with Lenahan for 30 years. Donahue’s brother played for the head coach for four years.
“He has had a lot of the same coaches under him,” Donahue said. “He is kind of a coach who doesn’t change a lot, but his methods are very effective.”
“Players like his dry sense of humor. Growing up, I actually played soccer. I kicked and played soccer my senior year. Every time I would bring my soccer ball to school, he would always tell me to get that kick ball out of here. I don’t want to ever see that again. He always pushed my buttons for playing soccer. I think his sense of humor is one thing that I really enjoy and still enjoy.”
But of course, coaching football was a learning experience from the get-go for a determined Lenahan, who said it was on-the-job training for the first decade of his career.
He began hand-picking his assistants who could make the Bobcats prosperous.
“I had to go get a lot help because you can’t do it yourself,” Lenahan explained. “But I learned the more help you get the better people, you do a better job. I settled in pretty good in by ’90s with a great coaching staff. Right now, I have five great coaches and five assistants.
“There are maybe four or five people on my staff who could be head coaches. We have had the same guys for the past 20 years. Let me tell you, that helps”
Boyhood friend and brother-in-law Mike Baird said Lenahan deserves every bit of praise he’s getting.
“We played sports in (Mechanic Falls) high school; we graduated together,” Baird said. “The interesting thing, we didn’t have a football team. We never played football.
“I think he relates well to people playing the sport. I think they respect him, and they play hard for him and I think that is part of it. He’s done a great job over there.”
Over the years, Baird has had to endure Lenahan’s grim predictions for the coming football seasons. But he just smiles whenever the Plymouth football coach cries poor.
“Ever since I have known him over, (he says,) ‘Boy it is going to be a losing season,’ and you know, it never has been,” Baird said. “But we always have to listen to it — ‘It is going to be a losing season.'”
Driven to succeed
Don’t be mislead by Lenahan’s baritone voice and “old blood and guts” approach to coaching an incredibly successful high school football team. He has the heart of lion and the compassion of educator who would stand up until he dropped for his students. And Lenahan has never forgotten the family and friends who steered him in the right direction.
He remains grateful to his supportive and loving parents, the late Francis Sr. and Josephine Lenahan, for their devotion to their children.
After playing three sports at the defunct Mechanic Falls High and graduating in 1961, he was drafted and served a year in Vietnam as a member of the United States Army. When his tour ended, he knew he had to do something with life.
Lenahan enrolled at Plymouth State College where he played club football. He also attended Central Michigan University.
In 1971, began working in education at Plymouth Regional High School and became the Bobcats’ football coach and athletic director.
He never left.
“I am the athletic director/coach. I can run my own show,” Lenahan said. “Our parents are great. Most of our parents used to be my students.
“Bruce Parsons, a great principal, he runs a tight ship here and everybody is accountable. The kids come first, and it’s a great place.
“I’ve been pretty lucky. Forty-two years and I never missed one practice or a game or anything — 42 straight years. I am pretty lucky there.”
Those who know Coach Lenahan feel pretty lucky, too.