Because it happened so long ago, and since the community has changed so dramatically since then, a lot of people in Green may not know of Dan Drake.
That’s unfortunate, for they missed seeing something – and someone – truly special. He was the greatest football coach not just in the history of the Suburban League, but also one of the best in the area overall, and he did it all at Green High School.
The iconic Drake passed away exactly a week ago, on Feb. 4, after a lengthy illness. He was 79.
Serving as Bulldogs head coach for 17 seasons, from 1972-88, Drake posted a 124-44-6 record (.730) and captured a record eight SL championships, including five in a row, which is also the most in league history. Another league mark is the 25 straight SL wins his teams posted during that run of consecutive titles.
In addition, and not surprisingly, he was named SL Coach of the Year six times.
But it almost never happened, at least with Drake as head coach, and it wouldn’t have occurred if he had had his way.
A native of Mogadore and a 1957 graduate of Mogadore High School, where he was a star quarterback, and a 1962 graduate of Kent State University, Drake was hired as a math teacher at Green in 1962 and immediately began his coaching career as an assistant on Bulldogs head coach Jim Cullom’s staff.
The Bulldogs kept improving, culminating in 1968 when they won the first of three straight Suburban League championships and Cullom was named the league’s top coach.
Cullom, a former standout fullback at Kent State who set the school rushing record in 1952, unexpectedly died on Aug. 24, 1972, about two weeks before the Bulldogs were to begin their season.
School officials wanted Drake to take over as head coach, but he balked because he was selfless and didn’t like the fact that he was being favored over other members of the staff. Instead, he wanted to be part of what he called “a triumvirate of coaches” that would have included two other longtime assistants in Francis Kelly, who arrived in 1965, and Elden McVicker (1967).
While acknowledging the competence of Kelly and McVicker, the officials stood firm and refused Drake’s plan. They insisted on him taking over by himself and, with the beginning of the regular season imminent, he finally – but reluctantly – relented and took the job.
Drake, however, ran the team his way, actually implementing that triumvirate of coaches philosophy by working closely with McVicker, who years later became Green’s head coach, and Kelly as a three-headed head coach.
It was a stroke of genius, and, as evidenced by the success it wrought, it paid off with the greatest football dynasty the Suburban League has ever known. The three men, in all having coached under Cullom, had almost identical philosophies, so much so, in fact, that they could finish each other’s sentences. Their weekly meetings to prepare for upcoming opponents quickly morphed into five-minute discussions on the field after games.
Indeed, why waste all that time if it weren’t needed?
Green nearly won the SL title in that first season of 1972, and the following year started the string of five championships in a row that ran through 1977.
Drake, who also served as a counselor and athletics director, and as a coach in basketball, track and golf, worked 28 years at Green, retiring in 1990. He then went on to serve as an assistant football coach at Walsh University under Jim Dennison, formerly the longtime head coach at the University of Akron, and as an athletic academic advisor there, and also did some work at Coventry High School.
Drake is survived by his wife of 57 years, Karen, their daughter, Jennifer Drake Patrick, and three grandchildren.
There will be a memorial service on Saturday, Feb. 16 at 11 a.m. at St. Jacob's Lutheran Church, 1460 State St. NE, North Canton. Donations can be made in Drake’s honor to the St. Jacob's Lutheran Church or to the Cleveland Clinic Body Donation Program NA 22, 9500 Euclid Ave., Cleveland 44195.