Rodriguez, Therriault, Reynolds and Whitley. The coaches who brought the Raiders to the Class L Playoffs. By Rich Elliott.
By Rich Elliott
TORRINGTON – The opportunity was there for Andy Therriault to take two years ago. The rest of the Torrington High football coaching staff had left first-year head coach Gaitan Rodriguez in the aftermath of the 2013 season.
It was Therriault’s first coaching job after playing semi-pro football for three years with the Middletown Spartans and the Hartford Whalers. It would have been easy for him to look for his second following a 3-8 season. That was hardly his intention, though. He loved what he was doing and he understood that all it would take was for Rodriguez to get the right guys, his guys, in house to formulate a staff that would create a sense of cohesiveness.
Therriault was right. Rodriguez found his guys prior to the start of last season. And heading into Tuesday’s CIAC Class L quarterfinal game against fifth-seeded Wethersfield (9-1) at the Robert H. Frost Complex at 6:30 p.m., assistants Bob Reynolds, Therriault and Don Whitley stand united with Rodriguez and the fourth-seeded Raiders (9-1).
``Me and G have a great relationship,’’ Therriault said. ``No where better to be. I really like the kids. I really like the environment. I like giving back to the community. The football program helped me when I was growing up. I wasn’t ready to leave.
``G got the job and I guess what it was is just finding your guys. He was a first-time head coach just trying guys out. You want guys you can work with and you’re not always butting heads with. But between the first year and the second year, he got guys in here who were more bought-in and more town guys. I feel like we have a great core group of coaches right now. I’d say addition by subtraction is a good term.’’
Therriault was Rodriguez’s first hire. Reynolds and Whitley, who both served as the head coach at Gilbert during their lengthy coaching careers, are in their second year on the staff.
Jordan Capitanio and Mike Ciesco were also hired last season when Torrington finished 5-6. They, too, were exactly what Rodriguez was looking for in an assistant coach, However, Capitanio moved on to become an assistant at Greenwich High this season. Ciesco opted to take some time off due to personal reasons.
``I wish those guys were around this year,’’ Therriault said. ``No hard feelings for either one of them. They’re both taking care of business.’’
While Rodriguez would like to hire a couple of more coaches in the future, the current staff is a perfect mix. Reynolds (1969), Therriault (2002) and Whitley (1972) graduated from Torrington High. They played football at Torrington High. There is veteran leadership with the 64-year-old Reynolds and the 61-year-old Whitley and a youthful vibrancy with the 32-year-old Therriault.
They strike an ideal balance with Rodriguez, a 37-year-old 1997 Torrington graduate and former star running back.
``They’ve had a huge impact,’’ Rodriguez said. ``All three of them are not only good football coaches, but they’re just great men and they’re great role models for our guys to look to. All of them go above and beyond what their roles are on the team as far as titles go. Everybody has a lot of input in what we do in the football program.
``I think the way that they coach, they’re teachers. They’re teachers first and they teach the game really well. They’re really about the relationships and that’s what I’m about. I call it a relationship-based coaching. That’s the style I have developed over years and that’s the style that all of our coaches at Torrington have right now. It’s just been a great fit.’’
Reynolds serves as the defensive coordinator. Therriault is the offensive line/defensive line coach, while Whitley is the special teams coordinator/junior varsity coach. Whitley also served as the team’s strength and conditioning coach this season.
Tuesday they will coach the Raiders in their first CIAC state playoff game since a 24-0 loss to New London in the 1983 Class MM final.
``I think what it all comes down to is we all love Torrington and we all love Torrington football,’’ Therriault said. ``We’re all about this program. That’s what makes us work well together. We just want to see this place do well. And for all of us it’s not about the paycheck. Not that it ever is with coaching, but it’s about seeing these kids and this school and this community do well. We really want to turn around the bad image that was set a few years ago. I really think that common thread makes all work really well together.’’
Said Whitley: ``We’re tight. We all put a lot of hours in because there’s only four of us. We all watch film. We all talk about what we’re going to do every week. Coach G kind of holds us together. We stay together. We talk. We make sure everything’s the way we want it to be and then we go.’’
Reynolds, who is in his first full year of retirement after serving as a teacher at Torrington High, began his coaching career as an assistant coach at Torrington in 1990. He coached Rodriguez during this stint before assuming the head coaching position at Gilbert in 1997.
Reynolds stepped down in 2007. He was out of coaching until joining Rodriguez last year.
``We were still interested. We still had a desire. But the situation had to kind of come up,’’ Reynolds said referring to Whitley and himself. ``I was also kind of close to retirement. It was all in this whole kind of `before you die and they bury you, you have all this stuff in your brain. You’d like maybe at least pass it on to somebody or have somebody use it.’ Again, I still enjoy coaching.’’
Whitley, whose son, Tyler, is the head coach at Taft, began his career as an assistant freshman coach at Torrington in 1973. After going away to school he returned as an assistant coach in 1978 before beginning a 10-year tenure as the head coach at Gilbert in 1988. He then returned to Torrington in the early 1990s before joining Reynolds at Gilbert later that decade.
Whitley also served as an assistant at Wolcott Tech before taking some time away to be with his family and returning to Torrington as a volunteer coach last season. He currently holds a full-time position.
``I love it,’’ Whitley said. ``The things that change is I’m less emotional about things. Turnovers and things that might happen during the game that years ago you might get frustrated you learn to stay more focused as you get older. And you can kind of understand what happened and then calculate what you have do next to take care of that kind of stuff instead of getting emotional and upset and screaming and yelling. You see the game more clearly.
``Right now I’m having a ball. I’m having fun. I’m liking what I’m doing.’’
Therriault, a two-time New England Football League All-Star center, caught the attention of Rodriguez in a local newspaper article that highlighted the fact the he was still playing football. Rodriguez said he reached out to Therriault after finding his profile on-line.
At that point, Therriault was ready to make the switch from player to coach.
``I remember reading the article and I was pretty impressed that all these years and he kept playing,’’ Rodriguez said. ``I just remember him from coaching him when I was in Torrington (as an assistant coach from 1999 through 2004) and I just remember how hard he worked. I kind of looked him up on Facebook and I connected with him and I asked him, `Hey, what do you think about coaching?’ Because I wanted to find a young coach but also someone I could rely on and that I knew. And he responded back and it turns out that the offensive system that he ran as a semi-pro player (with the Hartford Whalers) was the same system (spread offense) that I was going to be implementing. So there was some familiarity there. It was just a natural fit.’’
Neither Reynolds nor Whitley would put a timetable on when their careers might come to an end. Reynolds said it is ``open-ended’’ at the moment. Therriault is just getting started.
Reynolds, Rodriquez, Therriault and Whitley have developed an impenetrable bond in the two years they have spent together at Torrington. On-field success has been the by-product. And at this point, it is a staff that hopes to remain intact for years to come.
``I think we all can,’’ Therriault said. ``We all have one common thread and we all work well together and respect each other really well. I think we all bring something different to the table. I’ve played a lot of football, but I know it doesn’t compare to what these guys have seen over their careers. So there’s a lot of give and take and we work well together. We really do.’’