When high school football kicks off in a little over a month — I’m taking the optimistic approach that there will be some sort of a season this fall, even though recent events both nationally and regionally is making me very skeptical — two coaching staples will no longer be attached to their teams.
Gone from the sideline will be a pair of the area’s most successful coaches over the past decade or more — Fort Hill’s Todd Appel and Keyser’s Sean Biser, taking 28 years of head coaching experience with them.
Both departures, particularly Biser’s, were unexpected.
Appel announced last week that he was stepping away from the game after 12 years and five state championships out of seven appearances as the head man. Overall, he has 27 years coaching with the Sentinels counting his time as an assistant first for Mike Calhoun and then Barry Lattimer.
He’s remaining in education, taking an elementary teaching position in Worcester County.
Biser’s announcement in February caught everyone by surprise because he was the hometown product coaching at his alma mater for the past 16 years and it was thought he would be there until he decided it was time — including him.
But the allure — and the timing — was perfect for him to return to the West Virginia Class AAA level where he will try to get the Morgantown Mohigans consistently into the playoffs. He first became a head coach at Hampshire beginning in 1999 where he took the Trojans to the playoffs in three of his five seasons. He left in 2004 when the Keyser position became available.
Morgantown was persistent, though, and didn’t take no for an answer even after, as Biser said, “I turned them down twice.” He was first approached by the school in November.
“It was like a perfect storm with what they had to offer and the opportunities that might lie ahead,” he told the Times-News shortly after it was announced he was leaving.
While Appel’s decision was also headline grabbing, it wasn’t completely unforeseen as there had been speculation before the start of last season that he was going to step down.
“My reaction is ‘Wow!’” said Northern Head Coach Phil Carr to the Times-News’ Alex Rychwalski. “I know he had talked about it the last year or two but it still will be weird with him not calling the shots at Fort Hill.
“He had an amazing run with a great program and some outstanding football players.”
Carr, along with Frankfort’s Kevin Whiteman, are now two of the longest-tenured coaches in the area with 33 years between them with Carr being the dean with 23 years at Northern.
“I’m shocked that he resigned,” Biser replied to Rychwalski last week. “But as a head coach, a lot of people don’t realize the stress you’re under and all the pressure you put on yourself. The mental, physical toll that puts on your body. No one wants to win more than the coach.
“There’s a lot of pressure, that’s why a lot of coaches don’t last as long as he did. You have to make sure the work in the weight room is done, scheduling is done, school is done, grades are good. Every little thing. The coaching part, the X’s and O’s, that’s the easy part. It takes time away from your family. It’s a year-round grind.”
What Appel has accomplished will probably be unmatched and will be appreciated more and more as the years go by. In his 12 seasons, the Sentinels never failed to reach the playoffs, never lost an opening-round postseason game, made it to the state final seven times including a state-record six consecutive trips with five championships.
It seems unfitting, though, that his last game was a 41-0 loss to last year’s eventual 1A champion Catoctin in the semifinal — the first shutout defeat of his head coaching career.
He leaves as the school’s winningest coach by percentage (.899) and second in total wins with 142 behind only Charlie Lattimer’s 157 compiled over 20 seasons. Calhoun finished with 122 victories in 13 seasons and William Hahn had 110 in 14. Barry Lattimer finished with 74 in nine seasons. No one else has more than 27.
Biser, who finished 127-58 with the Golden Tornado and missed the playoffs only twice with one state championship appearance, was responsible for three of Appel’s 16 losses and was the only coach to beat him more than twice.
In their 10 head-to-head meetings, Fort Hill was 7-3 in a series dominated by the Sentinels 41-8-1.
“If he thinks it’s time, good for him,” Biser said. “Congrats to him on a fantastic career at Fort Hill. I wish him the best and hope he enjoys whatever he’s moving on to. No one can ever take his record and what he did there away from him.
“I like coaching against guys that are successful. It made for some great, great games. I have some great memories through the series, it was a good measuring stick.”
Jeff Landes is the sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Contact him at email@example.com.