Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School football coach Don Herman expected his 200th win to be a private accomplishment. “I never mentioned anything to my players,” he said in an interview in his office at the high school on Wednesday. But last Thursday as the coach walked off the practice field he was amused to hear the team break from its huddle. “Two hundred!” they shouted.
On Saturday the Vineyarders earned the milestone victory for Coach Herman in a 35-6 win over Cape Tech, led by another sensational performance by senior quarterback Randall Jette, who amassed nearly 300 yards of offense on foot and through the air. The win came a week after a devastating loss to Somerset at home. Having been through the highs and lows of over 20 years of coaching, Mr. Herman knew how to handle the setback.
“Just put it out of your memory, I told the players. Completely forget about it,” he said.
His team responded with an inspired win over Cape Tech. The achievement offered Mr. Herman an opportunity to reflect this week on a career that spans three decades.
He began his career as the football coach of Johnson High School in his hometown of Savannah, Ga. There he recorded 12 of his eventual 200 coaching wins. When he came to the Vineyard in 1988 to replace Bob Tankard, he wasn’t sure if the job would last more than a year. But today, 188 victories later, the coach has become an undeniable Island fixture.
And while every victory is sweet, a few stand out in his memory.
“The ultimate game was our come-from-behind win on Nanutcket in ’92,” he said without hesitation. It is a game that Mr. Herman and assistant coaches Jason O’Donnell and Jason Dyer, who played on the team, still reminisce about on the sidelines.
“The winner of that game wins the Mayflower League and goes on to the superbowl,” he said. “Both teams were 9-1 going into the game, the Vineyard had not won a game in Nantucket since 1972.”
Clawing their way back from a 12-0 hole with only 4:46 left in game, the Vineyarders eked out a 14-12 victory.
Jason Dyer, who was the quarterback then and is now quarterbacks coach, had family friends who lived on Nantucket and left the game minutes before the thrilling comeback.
“They called the next morning to congratulate him on having a great career,” said Mr. Herman, “And they said, ‘Too bad you guys just couldn’t pull it off.’ Jason goes, ‘What are you talking about? We won.’ That game is forever a part of Vineyard football.”
Mr. Herman recounts as if it were yesterday the outstretched arms and fingertip catch of Albert Robinson in the corner of the end zone in the game’s closing moments.
“Albie happens to be Randall Jette’s stepdad,” he said. “I guess that’s when you know you’re getting too old as a coach.”
The cancellation of the Island Cup last year hit hard, he said, and players are already salivating to renew the age-old rivalry.
“We were so upset last year that it didn’t take place, for whatever the reasons,” Mr. Herman said. “It’s awesome to get it back though. It’s huge to have it back. It’s enormous to get it back.”
He credits a Little League baseball coach and his football coach at the all-boy, military Benedictine High School in Savannah for instilling in him a love for athletics early on.
“[Benedictine coach] Jim Walsh to this day remains an important part of who I am as a coach,” he said.
Of his own coaching success, Mr. Herman said his involvement with the high school students off the playing field has proven invaluable.
“I think one of the major reasons why I’ve had success is the fact that I’ve actually been in the building,” he said. “Other coaches before me were not, and I think that’s a major plus. I get to know the kids outside of football.”
He said 90 per cent of his coaching occurs off the field, coaching the person rather than the player.
“You have to coach the individual, that’s my opinion,” he said.
With the season fast progressing there is little time for Mr. Herman to soak in his latest coaching benchmark; this weekend his team aims for win number 201 against a tough Bishop Feehan team in Attleboro.
“Oh,” he said with a pained expression as he returned to work. “They’re a good football team.”