BY MIKE WHITE PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, August 14, 2020
Nine years ago, it was the new Deal.
After more than three decades on the high school and major-college level, Bryan Deal gave up football coaching, stepping down at Fox Chapel High School. He went cold turkey, giving up something he had done for almost two-thirds of his life.
But in the fall of 2011, the new Deal still found himself coaching — only it was on tees, fairways and greens. Deal became Fox Chapel’s boys golf coach.
Nine years later, Deal is one unique coach with one rare championship combo. You can bet not many guys in the country have won state championships in the sports of football — and golf? But that’s what Deal has on his resume, along with six seasons as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Pitt under Walt Harris.
Deal, 62, won a state football championship in 1995 at Dublin Scioto High School in Ohio. Then last year, he won WPIAL and PIAA Class 3A championships in golf at Fox Chapel.
Oh, wait. Get this: Deal almost won another state championship in another sport. In 1988, he guided the Sidney High softball team to the Ohio state final before losing. And don’t overlook the fact that Deal also was an assistant coach for the Fox Chapel boys tennis team that won four WPIAL titles.
“I’ve just been lucky to have some talent all these years,” Deal said.
That is modesty coming through. But Deal is not shy to say what coaching golf has done for him. If there is a 2020 golf season, depending on the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be Deal’s 10th as Fox Chapel’s coach. Deal has been an avid golfer for decades (he has a 3.5 handicap). But he never coached golf before 2011.
“It’s been an interesting transition,” Deal said. “For 32 years of my life, I was a football coach 24-7-365. When that ends, you can really have a void in your life and I had to find something to fulfill it. That became golf. I was fortunate to be in a good place at the right time.. It’s ended up being a great run with these kids.”
The WPIAL and PIAA titles were tremendous, but some members of that 2019 Fox Chapel team had one more impressive showing just last week. Scott Bitar, Aidan Oehrle, Matt Mattioli and Amani Dambrosio (seniors on last year’s team) and Will Livingston (senior this year) played as a team at the National High School Golf Association national invitational at Pinehurst Resort (N.C.), and finished fourth out of 27 teams from across the country. Deal coached the team.
Deal will be the first to acknowledge that coaching high school golf is vastly different than coaching high school football or many other sports. Golf is more of an individual sport. Many players might belong to a country club and have an individual or teaching pro outside of high school who works with them. Many WPIAL teams don’t even get much time to practice on a course and the coach often doesn’t do much more than set the lineup for their team matches.
But Deal does more than the average high school golf coach. Fox Chapel has a “workout” room that the golf team shares with other sports teams. The room has five golf hitting bays and a TrackMan (golf simulator) that players can use to work on their swings. Deal sometimes has the players hit balls before school starts. Players sometimes hit balls in the room after school and before a match.
Deal also likes to put together a tough non-section schedule for his team. He will even take Fox Chapel to matches out of state where the team stays over night in a hotel. That’s almost unheard of for WPIAL golf teams.
“I consider myself like the Ryder Cup captain,” Deal said. “I’m not going to change any players swing planes or give them in-depth instruction. They’re getting the best instruction from multiple people. I coach the 5½ inches between their ears, with things like preparation. And teaching the team aspect of golf is one of the biggest challenges.”
“Sometimes you just have to take your medicine in team golf,” Deal said. “Like, just get the ball back in the fairway and get it in play. A bogey can sometimes be your best friend in team golf. Instead of trying to hit a shot like Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, trying to wrap a hook around from 230 yards, just make a bogey because that’s what’s best for the team. That’s more of the football mentality team aspect.”
Four of Deal’s golf teams have been WPIAL runner-up. He has won seven section titles and also has coached three WPIAL individual champions.
Deal got the Fox Chapel football job in 2005. While he says coaching golf has reinvigorated him, Deal still is bothered some by his days with the Foxes’ football team. Not that he didn’t enjoy coaching football at Fox Chapel. But the losing took its toll. Deal was 15-43 in six seasons.
“It destroyed me,” said Deal, who retired as a health/physical education teacher in June. “Any time you take a job, you always think that, no matter what, you can make a difference. You feel like you have to come through for everybody and that was a tough pill to swallow.
“I don’t regret any day of coaching football at Fox Chapel. The kids gave it their all, the coaches gave it their all and the administration was so supportive. Everybody was all in, but I just felt like we didn’t have enough physical durability to play in the section we were in at that time. Coming from Pitt and having success in high school prior to that, it was tough to take.”
But now, Deal takes plenty of wins — on the golf course.
Mike White: [email protected] and Twitter @mwhiteburgh