Fa­ther and son like shar­ing a side­line

Rus­sell Wrenn joined at Gil­man by his dad, Roger, a leg­end at Pat­ter­son, Poly

Baltimore Sun - - VARSITY - By Kather­ine Dunn kather­ine.dunn@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/kdunnsun

When Rus­sell Wrenn joined the Gil­man foot­ball coach­ing staff as of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor this past sum­mer, he was thrilled to have be­side him the “world’s most overqual­i­fied of­fen­sive line coach.”

Roger Wrenn, a Bal­ti­more high school coach­ing leg­end at Pat­ter­son and Poly, came out of re­tire­ment to work with his son for the first time. The two hadn’t been on the same team since Rus­sell was a lit­tle guy run­ning around the Pat­ter­son side­line.

“Be­fore I took this job,” Roger said, “I talked with [for­mer McDonogh coach] Mike Work­ing, who coached with his dad, and I talked to Nick Schloeder, who got a chance to coach with his fa­ther [at Gil­man] and both said, ‘Don’t turn that op­por­tu­nity down. It’ll re­ally be some­thing spe­cial for you and you’ll cher­ish those mem­o­ries.’ ”

Af­ter just a few months, fa­ther and son al­ready ap­pre­ci­ate the mem­o­ries they’ve made in such a short time, and there will surely be a few more when they coach to­gether in the 101st Gil­man-McDonogh game Satur­day at 1 p.m. at Gil­man.

Rus­sell, a Gil­man grad­u­ate, hasn’t been to the ri­valry game since he played in it his se­nior year, 1995. A lot of alumni have coached in the game, but Roger could be the first to have coached in the 128-year-old City-Poly ri­valry and the Gil­man-McDonogh game. As he said, no one knows for sure be­cause the games date back so far.

For Rus­sell, be­ing on the side­line with his fa­ther is es­pe­cially en­joy­able, be­cause he never had the chance to be coached by his dad, whose 284 wins rank fourth on Mary­land’s all-time high school foot­ball coach­ing list. While Rus­sell played foot­ball, bas­ket­ball and base­ball at Gil­man, Roger was busy coach­ing foot­ball and base­ball at Pat­ter­son.

On­the field, how­ever, they did cross paths twice. Gil­man played Pat­ter­son in base­ball dur­ing Rus­sell’s ju­nior and se­nior years. The Grey­hounds won both games, thanks in part to Rus­sell’s clutch hit­ting.

Al­though Rus­sell would have liked more time with his fa­ther, he said he never re­sented the time Roger spent coach­ing other peo­ple’s kids. Someof those other boys prob­a­bly needed the at­ten­tion more, Rus­sell said, be­cause not only did he have his fa­ther at home, but he also had plenty of good coaches and all the at­ten­tion he needed at Gil­man.

Fa­ther and son still bonded over sports, but most of those ex­pe­ri­ences were go­ing to Orioles games, watch­ing sports on TV and talk­ing about the sto­ries in “Texas High School Foot­ball Coach,” a mag­a­zine Roger sub­scribed to and 12-year-old Rus­sell de­voured.

“I tell ev­ery­body we have a great re­la­tion­ship to­day be­cause I never played for him and he never coached me,” Rus­sell said. “I think there’s some truth to that, so this is a re­ally neat way for us to be able to com­bine and do some­thing that for both of us has been a re­ally in­cred­i­ble and im­por­tant part of our lives.”

For Rus­sell, 38, coach­ing seemed to course through his veins. For a time, be­cause he had been given the chance to at­tend Gil­man, where he had a 4.0 GPA as a stu­dent, he thought he owed his par­ents some­thing more than be­ing the teacher­coach his fa­ther was or the teacher his mother, Linda, was. His younger brother, Alex, works in cy­ber­se­cu­rity and Rus­sell earned a law de­gree.

But the de­sire to coach just never left Rus­sell Wrenn, left, is in his first year as of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor for Gil­man, his alma mater. His fa­ther, Roger, came out of re­tire­ment af­ter a coach­ing ca­reer at Pat­ter­son and Poly to work with his son as the Grey­hounds’ of­fen­sive line coach. Rus­sell, and af­ter col­lege he had two stints coach­ing foot­ball and base­ball at Dick­in­son with a cou­ple of years in be­tween at Johns Hop­kins. Af­ter he got mar­ried in 2006, his wife’s job took them to At­lanta, where he started teach­ing and coach­ing at The West­min­ster Schools.

Last year, he was of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor for the foot­ball team, which won a state cham­pi­onship for the first time in 37 years, and head coach of the base­ball team, which won a state cham­pi­onship for the first time in 41 years.

“It was a great way to go out,” said Rus­sell, who­said coach­ing in Ge­or­gia was in­valu­able but that he couldn’t re­sist the chance to re­turn to his alma mater.

“I had to go far enough away where peo­ple wouldn’t ac­ci­den­tally call me Roger Wrenn or write my name as Roger Wrenn, and where I had to make my own rep­u­ta­tion, and that’s been one of the neat things about com­ing back. All of a sud­den, I’m Roger’s son again, as op­posed to just Coach Wrenn of West­min­ster. I’m ap­pre­cia­tive of that.”

Al­most as soon as ath­letic direc­tor Tim Hol­ley took over the Grey­hounds foot­ball pro­gram af­ter Biff Poggi and most of his staff de­parted, the long­time Gil­man ad­min­is­tra­tor wanted Rus­sell Wrenn to run his of­fense. He had known Rus­sell since he was in eighth grade and been his aca­demic ad­viser as a fresh­man and sopho­more. Once he had Rus­sell on board, he had an­other idea.

“I said to Rus­sell, ‘Do you think your dad would want to come back?’ ” Hol­ley said.

“He said, ‘Noway. Dad’s re­tired. His wife’s not go­ing to let him do it. He’s not budg­ing.’ ”

Still, Hol­ley took a shot when he sat next to Roger at a Bal­ti­more Touch­down Club meet­ing.

“We were catch­ing up and he said … how ex­cited he is Rus­sell’s go­ing to be coach­ing at Gil­man,” Hol­ley said. “Then I said, ‘Well, Roger, what if you joined us? We need an of­fen­sive line coach.’ He goes, ‘I’m not sure that my wife is go­ing to like this.’ ”

Roger, 69, and his wife, Donna, had been trav­el­ing the United States and Europe a lot since Roger left Poly in 2011, but he per­suaded her to let him come back to coach for a while with Rus­sell.

So he took over an of­fen­sive line of play­ers who had no idea of his leg­endary sta­tus.

“I had never heard of him,” se­nior cen­ter Will We­in­feld said, but his fa­ther, Michael, had. “He knew Rus­sell Wrenn be­cause he was an alum­nus and he played against Roger Wrenn’s teams back in the [Mary­land Scholas­tic As­so­ci­a­tion] days. He was very ex­cited.”

While We­in­feld has got­ten to like Roger as the of­fen­sive line coach, es­pe­cially his old-school style, it wasn’t un­til the last week­end in Septem­ber that he re­al­ized just how well-known Roger is. The coach was with the team dur­ing a com­mu­nity ser­vice project with the Liv­ing Class­rooms pro­gram in the City Springs neigh­bor­hood.

“We were walk­ing around pick­ing up trash,” We­in­feld said, “and it seemed like ev­ery other per­son we’d see would come up to Coach and say like, ‘Hey, Coach. I re­mem­ber when I played for you back in when­ever,’ be­cause it’s a feeder area for Pat­ter­son. He seemed to know ev­ery­one and that’s whenI was like, ‘This guy is re­ally a big deal.’ I un­der­stood that he’s got a lot of wins and he’s coached for a long time, but I didn’t quite re­al­ize the im­pact he had on Bal­ti­more.”

By join­ing Hol­ley as they tran­si­tion Gil­man’s pro­gram, the Wrenns hope to have a big im­pact on the Grey­hounds as well. Even though they’re 2-8 over­all with only one win in the Mary­land In­ter­scholas­tic Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion A Con­fer­ence this fall, they’ve been within two touch­downs of ev­ery league team ex­cept for No. 2 Arch­bishop Spald­ing, to whom they lost, 42-0. Against No. 1 St. Frances, Gil­man scored the first 10 points be­fore fall­ing, 26-10.

“I hate it for the kids,” Rus­sell said of the record af­ter the Grey­hounds won the A Con­fer­ence last sea­son. “I want ev­ery­one to ex­pe­ri­ence suc­cess and we cer­tainly need to ex­pe­ri­ence some to val­i­date what we’re try­ing to do. There’s no doubt we’ve got­ten bet­ter each and ev­ery week, and that’s sort of the way we have to judge our­selves.”

Ev­ery Sun­day morn­ing, the Wrenns have been at the ta­ble for an­other coaches’ strat­egy ses­sion. Rus­sell’s of­fense is a bit dif­fer­ent from what Roger ran, but the fa­ther was ea­ger to learn and con­trib­ute what­ever he hadn’t al­ready to his son’s of­fense.

“For me, he’s a sound­ing board,” Rus­sell said. “Usu­ally we tend to come in on Sun­day morn­ings with sim­i­lar thoughts, and that’s kind of re­as­sur­ing. Over the years, there’s plenty that I’ve bor­rowed or out­right stolen from him. In Ge­or­gia, we were well-known for the sin­gle-wing spin se­ries we ran, and that’s straight out of the Roger Wrenn play­book.”

While Rus­sell will be back with Hol­ley next fall, Roger will wait and see.

“I told them if they find some­body else, I will gladly step aside,” Roger said, “but I don’t make coach­ing de­ci­sions un­til a month af­ter the sea­son ends. I’ve given that ad­vice to other coaches be­fore, and I just think that’s the smart thing to do.”

AMY DAVIS/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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