East Providence High School head football coach Sandy Gorham has pondered the thought of giving up the reins of the Townies a couple of times in the recent past, even actually pulling the trigger on the decision once before only to change his mind.
But when he decided last month to formally submit his resignation, it was for good. His two-decade stay on the sideline for his alma mater was officially over.
Gorham made his intentions known to school administrators and his student athletes about six weeks ago, the latter being a highly-emotional exchange.
“Like I told the kids, everything has a beginning and an end. This is the end for me,” Coach Gorham said Wednesday, June 4, during an interview in his office at the high school.
“The kids were upset. There were a lot of tears shed. I cried,” he continued, nearly choking up again as he remembered the moment. “It was almost like being at a funeral procession. Every kid in the room came up to me and shook my hand, gave me hug. It was very emotional. It was a very difficult thing to do.”
That day would have been almost as hard as telling his youngest son, Luke, he wouldn’t coach him like Mr. Gorham had done at E.P. with his two older boys, Ryan and John. In fact, the chance of coaching Luke in the near future was one of the key factors leading Mr. Gorham to step away from the Townies.
He is leaving East Providence, not his teaching job, for a position on the staff of Bill McCagney at neighboring Barrington, the town in which the Gorhams now reside. Luke, by his father’s side at EPHS games since he was a toddler, is entering Barrington Middle School in the fall.
“I’m leaving for a couple of reasons. No. 1, I’ve spent my entire like coaching other people’s kids. Luke was constantly asking me if I was going to coach him like I had with Ryan and John. I’m an older dad. I’m 62. I want to spend as much time as I can with Luke. So when this opportunity came up to be an assistant at Barrington, I couldn’t pass it up,” Coach Gorham explained.
“And so I started thinking about my son and I also began to wonder about what has happened here the last couple of (losing) years. I was wondering if the kids were hearing me as well as they had in the past,” he continued. “I still have as much passion as I’ve ever had about coaching the game of football, but I started to think maybe it was time for the kids in East Providence to hear a different voice.
“I didn’t want to be Willie Mays playing centerfield for New York Mets. I didn’t want to get to the point where the kids weren’t hearing me like they used to.”
For the large majority of his time in the position, the players at EPHS heard the words of Coach Gorham and his staff loud and clear. The Townies won five, fully a third, of the school’s 15 state titles during his tenure, reached two other championships games and made 16 playoff appearances in all.
“No one was more proud to wear the red-and-white than I was,” Coach Gorham said. “I’m an old-school, old-time Townie. I was raised here. I played here. To be the coach of East Providence High School football was a dream for me, a joy for me.
“We went to seven Super Bowls, won five. We could have won a few more if the breaks went our way here or there. I loved every second of it, even the last few years as we struggled. Of course, I’m proud of all we accomplished, but I’m just as proud of the fact that last year when we won only a couple (two league) games, we ended with 60 of 61 kids on the team who started the year.”Gorham’s career as the EPHS coach started with a rebuilding job before he quickly turned the Townies into a juggernaut.
E.P. won its first Division I Super Bowl under his direction in 1997. The Townies won another in 1999, two more in 2002 and 2003 then added a fifth in 2006.
“Certainly the most emotional game came in the ’97 Super Bowl. There were some dark days that surrounded that season. My nephew Scott had died in a drunk driving accident that summer, July 26. It really hit me hard, hit my brother, Teddy, hard, the whole family.
“I remember my brother and myself sitting in the (Pierce Field baseball field) first base dugout crying before the Super Bowl game. We made it out to the (Pierce Stadium football) field just in time for the opening kickoff. And when the game ended, Teddy said to me look at the score. We won 26-0 (over Hendricken), July 26. Ted said I think Scott was looking out for us.”
Coach Gorham pointed to the 2006 title as his “most satisfying” of the championships. The Townies regrouped after a sluggish start to the year, which included a one-sided loss to Hendricken at home, before eventually defeating the same Hawks in the Super Bowl.
“I didn’t think that team would click. We had a lot of talent, but I didn’t think we were as good as other years,” he said. “But those kids bought in. They came together. And we rode (All-State quarterback) Nate Lovett. We not only beat Hendricken after losing to them during the year, but we dominated them, especially in the second half. It was 14-13 at the half and we won 35-13. It was a great win.”
The word “great” could be used to describe a host of moments and players who donned the EPHS uniform during Mr. Gorham’s time as coach.
“It started with Sean Andrade in 1995. You had Stevie Silva and the Jamie Silvas. More recently we had Dana Andrade and Robbie Delgado. I was fortunate to come across at a time when we had some great athletes here, great kids. Great athletes make great coaches. I had the opportunity to coach a lot of great players and I had some very good coaches with me. I thank them all,” Coach Gorham said.
“I think of those kids, those people, those teams. They meant everything to me,” he added. “I’ve had some dark times with the passing of my nephew, Ryan’s illness, my own health problems. Those kids did more for me than they’ll ever know, than I ever did for them. I used to tell people I went to therapy every day from 2:30 to 4:30, being on the field with them.”
Mr. Gorham begins the next chapter of his coaching life back at a place where he once stood on the sideline. He was the head coach at Barrington prior to leaving for E.P., Mr. McCagney then starting his own very successful stint with the Eagles. Mr. Gorham starts anew, however, with a bit of a heavy heart, though excited about what lay ahead.
“I’m very proud of what I did here, what we did here, and I’m just as proud of the stuff that no one knows about,” Coach Gorham said. “You can judge me on the wins and losses. Go ahead, but what means most to me was being a teacher and a coach to these kids. I always remember what (former E.P. athletic director) Kenny Reale told me. You’re in the kids business first and the coaching business second.
“I know I did the very best I could for them. I’m proud of the work I did as the football coach at East Providence High School. But like I told the kids when I announced I was resigning, there’s a beginning and an end for everything. And the end of my time here is now.”