For Coach Maurice Douglass, the greatest days aren’t when his Springfield High School
football team adds yet another win to a successful season.
The best is signing day, when his players commit to colleges, and he sees their lives transform.
“That’s better than going to the state championship,” says Douglass, a former NFL player who turned to high school football after retirement.
While Douglass thrives on giving his players more opportunities, he also is no stranger to football playoffs. In his nine years as head coach at Springfield, his team has been to the playoffs at the end of six of them – including four straight years in the final four, and appearances in the Division 1 state championship game both this year and last year.
Although Springfield lost that game earlier this month, Douglass loves the pride and support from the Clark County community.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” he says. “I’m just happy to be part of God’s plan to bring this to Springfield.”
Douglass, who was born in Muncie, Ind., played football for Trotwood-Madison High School
. The 58-year-old began playing as a fifth grader, where he was the only black student on the peewee team, and his coach would pick him up for every practice while his mom worked.
The influences of his former coaches stick with him still, and they are why he too strives to eliminate the obstacles his own players face.
“I’m going to take away all your excuses,” he says.
He relates to many of the same difficulties a number of his students face, whether it is the neighborhood where they live, an unavailable father or the high expectations to make good decisions. The team has both good students and those who struggle, and Douglass himself remembers a time when all he wanted to do was play sports.
“When I was at Trotwood, I really didn’t know that you had to go to college to make it to the NFL,” he says.
After a stint at a community college in Kansas, he played football for the University of Kentucky
. That was followed by 11 seasons in the NFL, playing for the Chicago Bears
and the New York Giants
He then spent a year in 2000 as the defensive backs coach at Springfield South High School before becoming the head coach at his alma mater, Trotwood-Madison. He led that team to the state championship game for four straight years before taking the top coaching job in Springfield in 2014 and moving here.
Douglass says he was the third coach that senior class had seen, and that first year ended with a 2-8 record. By his third year as coach, the team was in the playoffs.
Douglass calls himself a player’s coach and tries to relate to the players and what is happening in their lives. Good cop, bad cop, dad, uncle or pastor – he takes on the role they need that day.
“My office is always open, my door is always open,” he says. “A lot of them just want to be heard.”
He emphasizes that the team’s success has a ripple effect, and it brings attention to where they live. That means the success of the young men on the team has the possibility of changing the minds of those who have a bad perception of Springfield.
“We do everything we do for the city,” he says.
He and the team also use football as a tool to provide hope to others, including elementary students who see the players as idols, he says. When they see the Springfield team on television, they see that they, too, can achieve that success.
After his NFL career, Douglass declined a chance to coach defensive backs at Vanderbilt University. Instead, he wanted to help young players achieve their own goals and help them get to college. His players have gone on to both Ivy League and NFL fields.
“We’ve been blessed to see dreams come true,” he says.
Of this year’s 94 players at Springfield, only about a dozen are graduating seniors. Fans of the Wildcats will see many familiar faces and talented kids next season, he says. He predicts that the playoffs will become a “regular thing” for the team.
In the meantime, Douglass is advocating for separate playoffs for private and public schools in order to even the playing field. He says that private schools have won the Division 1 state championship in 11 of the last 13 years. That includes the last two years when St. Edward defeated the Springfield team.
Looking toward next year, players will begin working on skills like agility and quickness beginning in January. And Douglass will be standing by his team.
“I’m here until the Lord tells me it’s time to go,” he says, “and I don’t see that happening for a while.”