Entering his 34th year, Central York's Livingston still going strong
Central York High School football coach Brad Livingston wasn't afraid to admit that he drove to last month's high school football media day with his car stereo blaring.
The admission got a rise out of senior quarterback Nik Strine and senior lineman Zane Santos. Even Livingston himself had to let out a laugh at how ridiculous his remark sounded. To most 67 year olds, louder volumes usually are a result of their hearing starting to go. For Livingston, however, it was a signal of his level of excitement to begin his 34th season as a high school football head coach, all with the Panthers. It was also an indication that he has no plans on calling it quits anytime soon.
"If it gets old, then it's time to go," he said when asked about preparing for the start of another football season.
In those 34 years, Livingston's had great years, horrid years and everything in between. Through it all, he still has the enthusiasm to return at the end of every summer and start gearing up for the 10-week grind through the fall. He's a dying breed of coach, at least when it comes to this area.
Coaching merry-go-round: Take this offseason for example. Just from the end of the 2014 season to the beginning of this one, there were eight coaching changes among the 23 York-Adams League teams. In the past three seasons, there have been close to 20 coaching changes, with some schools making more than one. But every year, for the past 3 1/2 decades, Livingston has been one of the constants taking to the sidelines on Friday nights in the fall.
Forget about all the change within the league. Even some of the longest-tenured coaches can't hold a candle to Livingston's longevity. Kevin Myers is in his 11th season at the helm of Dallastown, while Mike Lippy is coaching his 13th season with Littlestown. And then there's Jon DeFoe with Bermudian Springs, who is about to embark on his 17th season with the Eagles. That's exactly half the amount of time that Livingston has spent with Central. Those are the next three longest-serving head coaches for one school in the league. Their combined tenures (41 years) are just seven years longer than Livingston's at Central.
"Sometimes, when you run into older coaches from other teams, the conversation goes to who's still coaching and who isn't," Livingston said at practice on Tuesday. "...I don't really think about it that much because age is just a number and they're all football coaches and we're all trying to do the same job."
Earning trust: Still, Livingston's long tenure with the school didn't come without some hardships.
It's commonly assumed that if any coach sticks around with one team for an extended period of time, it's because he's enjoyed perennial success. But, that wasn't the case with Livingston and the Panthers. Roughly one-third of Livingston's seasons at Central have ended with playoff appearances. But, mixed in there are a lot of years when he coached teams that hovered around the .500 mark, and even a few years when his teams struggled mightily.
During the 1993 and 1994 seasons, Livingston's Panthers won a total of one game, going 1-21 in that stretch and 1-13 in league play. However, with the support from the school district, Livingston had the opportunity to work through those down years and rebuild the Central program back into a regular contender within the league.
"Even in the early-90s, when we had two years that were just horrendous — I wouldn't wish them on my worst enemies — we were given a chance to work our way out of it and get back to where we were," he said. "And I've always been appreciative of that because I don't think a lot of school districts would've allowed that to happen."
An unlikely combo: Over the course of his career as coach of the Panthers football team, Livingston has amassed a career record of 208-146-4. That includes 10 appearances in the District 3 playoffs, an 8-10 postseason record and two appearances in championship games, a 14-10 loss in 1984 to Hershey and a 24-23 defeat in 1990 to Manheim Central. But, for all the success he's had on the football field, he's seen even greater success on the volleyball court.
Typically, football and volleyball don't go hand-in-hand, but Livingston has made it work. He started coaching Central's boys' volleyball team in 1972 as an assistant and has taken the team to great heights once he took over as head coach in 2002. In his 14 years as head coach for the boys' volleyball team, he's led the program to four District 3 titles and been apart of many of the team's six state titles, including most recently in 2014.
"Both (sports), if you're going to win, you need great athletes," Livingston said when comparing the two sports. "Both games are really, very, very intense and, actually, great volleyball players have the same mentality that great football players have. It's a very aggressive, in-your-face game and is a fast game, just like football can be."
Adapting styles: When Livingston first began coaching, the single wing was the most prevalent offensive formation. But, over the course of his career, he's been forced to adapt to the more modern formations, such as the more commonly used Wing-T or spread. While it's made Livingston change his coaching ways, he's also had to delegate some of his coaching duties to his coordinators, especially on offense.
"We do a lot of different things offensively and he runs it like a college program," said Matt Baker, who's a longtime offensive coordinator at Central and former quarterback under Livingston. "He leaves us to do what we want to do, but then bring the concept that we want to run that week to him. So it's not like he lets us run the whole roost. He certainly has a pulse of what's going on."
No coach can afford to stand still in football, not with how rapidly new styles of offense and defense come into play. The ability to adapt becomes that much more important when you've been coaching since the early 1980s. It's another reason why Livingston has stuck around and been so successful.
As he grows older, his players stay the same age. So, he must stay in touch with them anyway possible, and he does that by staying up-to-date on current trends, which includes listening to the same kind of music as his players. But, it's a two-way street, with Livingston making his players also adapt to him, which includes the players being forced to check their emails and getting used to face-to-face interaction, rather than texting.
His record on the field speaks for itself, but the respect that his players have for him goes beyond athletics. They recognize the effort he puts in, which helps him stay relevant 34 years after he first took over the Panthers.
"There's a certain level of respect that's there," Strine said back on media day. "Obviously, we put our trust in him and he trusts us and everything works out for the best."
Nearing the end: Livingston isn't sure how long he'll keep coaching. Every morning getting out of bed gets harder and harder, and the thought of when he's going to retire crosses his mind. But, he feels alive when he's on the football field, which is evident by his willingness to let loose on his players when something doesn't please him. For now, he takes it year to year, and when this season ends, he'll do what he does a the end of every year — sit down with his coaching staff and see what the future has in store.
"Early on in my career, my wife and I talked about it a lot," he said. "I think what we decided, when we had the kids and they were little, we were going to evaluate it every other year. But, lately, it's just been that thing where you go from year to year."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @P_Strohecker