At Del Val, Bill Manlove still going strong at 84

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Bill Manlove (center, right) surrounded by Delaware Valley College players.

Bill Manlove has never lived through his past. Even though he has more than enough memories to do so if he wanted. But it’s not his way. At 84 years young, he’s still doing what he’s mostly done the past six decades. Which is coaching football.

“It’s about being around those kids,” he said. “I think that’s how I look at life. I just don’t want to be old. Even though I am old. It gives my wife something to do on Saturdays, so she’s fine with it. She hasn’t missed many games in 60 years.

“When I left La Salle [in 2001, after five seasons], my wife thought it might be time to retire. So I sat around the house for a couple of weeks and told her I couldn’t stand it.”

A few months later, he became an assistant at Delaware Valley University, where he’d been the head coach from 1992-95.

“I just wanted to help out,” Manlove recalled. “But I even got paid.”

He has worked for three coaches since then. One played for him; two others coached for or with him.

“I’m the assistant consultant to the head coach,” he said. “You know what that means.

“I can say anything I want, and they don’t have to listen.”

But they do. The Aggies (9-0) are ranked fifth in Division III heading into Saturday afternoon’s home game against Widener (7-2), where Manlove won 182 times (including two national championships) from 1969-91. This one is for the Middle Atlantic Conference title and an automatic spot in the NCAA playoffs, although Del Val would still get in as an at-large if it loses.

“I always tell everybody this is the one week I can’t lose,” Manlove said. “I want us to win. If we don’t, then I’m happy for Widener. But I’m for Del Val. That’s who I’m working with.”

Head coach Duke Greco, a former Aggies quarterback, thinks having Manlove around is anything but minor, for him and his coaches.

“It’s not like he just stands over on the sidelines doing something once in a while,” Greco said. “He’s in it all the way. He’s been great with us, and with the players. Who wouldn’t want someone like him to be able to go to? He’s one of the best. So we’re lucky. I mean he’s forgotten a lot more than we could ever hope to know.”

This is the 40th anniversary of Manlove’s first title team. Two weeks ago, Widener honored that group by putting it in its Hall of Fame. And Manlove was there to soak it all in.

“It was so nice that night to reminisce,” said the man who went into the national college Hall six years ago. “It was amazing. Some of them looked like they could still play. And some were so little I can’t remember how they ever played. I think it was more for them, to think back at what happened.

“You go to a certain game, or moment. That’s what’s important. For me, it was just great to see them and catch up. For some reason, I don’t see them as much as the ’81 team [which won it all, too].”

The man who coached the legendary Billy “White Shoes” Johnson remembers that expectations weren’t that high going into that 1977 season.

“It’s funny,” he said. “We’d been in the playoffs in ’75, when we lost at Ithaca in the second round. We didn’t get in in ’76, even though I thought we had a better team. Except we got beat by a lousy team in one game. Dickinson beat us big. And they still get together to celebrate what they call the greatest game they ever played. That’s tremendous.

“We’d lost our starting quarterback in a scrimmage against Trenton State before the season. I’ve long since forgotten his name. We put Mark Walter in the first week, over a lot of objections. He wound up being the most valuable player in the Stagg Bowl [39-36 win over Wabash in Phenix City, Ala.]. I guess I picked the right one.

“Before the season, I always put down what I thought our record would be on a piece of paper and stuck it in my wallet. That year, I wrote 5-4. We ended up 8-1. We lost to a very good Fordham team and still got in. Then we just kind of exploded. I can’t give you any reason. We had a very good running back, Chip Zawoiski, who transferred from West Chester. You had to sit out a year in those days [at that level]. A lot of guys just had great years …

“After the game,” he continued, “while we were waiting for the bus, the coaches were just sitting in the grass. It was warm enough to do that. And we were saying, ‘Can you believe this? We just won.’ And we were shaking our heads like how did this happen.”

There was a point at which Manlove and Nebraska’s Tom Osborne had the two highest winning percentages in the sport at any level. Manlove, who went 2-7 his first season when Widener was still called Pennsylvania Military College, would finish 212-110-1. He started at Gloucester City High in his native South Jersey and also was on the staff at Lafayette. That was a long time ago. Much has changed. But somehow he’s stayed mostly the same. A true gentleman, and a pretty good teacher/motivator. Which of course beats being bored doing something else.

“I don’t look back, unless somebody asks me,” Manlove said, in his soft-spoken, comforting voice. “I’m just trying to help, although I don’t think Duke needs much help. As a head coach, you do everything. I’m just there to let a player know if he messes up, or tell him to get the next one or let’s do it this way.

“To be honest, I’ve never had any trophies or anything in my office. I didn’t want to be reminded of the past. It’s what have you done now. The only thing I had was a picture of Ted Williams, because I thought he was the greatest hitter when I was a kid. … The good Lord gave me something to do until they say get out of here.

“I want to keep living in the present. I look forward to the next day. I get up every morning and thank Him for yesterday, and can you give me another one? I say that to some of these guys and they look at me funny. I tell them some day you’ll understand.

“A lot of people kind of get to a point where there’s nothing they see as a future,” he concluded. “I’ve never been like that. I don’t know if people are depending on me, but they put up with me. And that’s fine.”

Yo, if it ain’t broke …

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