CUMBERLAND — When it came time for Chris Skurka to make the biggest football decision of his life, he turned to a voice of reassurance and clarity.
Alison Skurka, the coach’s wife, had a quick answer. A staunch supporter of her husband’s pigskin endeavors, Alison gave Chris her blessing to make the jump from head coach at Cumberland High to becoming an assistant at Dean College.
“She’s allowed me to chase that dream,” said Chris Skurka. “Ultimately, it came down to me making a decision about my family and my career as a coach.”
By now it should be a foregone conclusion – one coaching chapter in Skurka’s life has closed with another one waiting to be written. Last week, his successful five-year tenure on Cumberland’s sidelines officially came to an end when he accepted a college-coaching position that specifically entails overseeing the linebackers and special teams at Dean, located in Franklin, Mass.
How this advancement in the coaching world came together happened rather quickly. A few days before the calendar flipped to 2014, Dean head coach Todd Vasey reached out to Skurka, making him aware that there was a vacancy on his staff that has his name written all over it. About a week later, Skurka informed Vasey that, yes, he would accept.
After informing Cumberland High administrators, Skurka told the players last Thursday that he would no longer be coaching them.
A Cumberland graduate who starred as a lineman, Skurka guided the program to back-to-back Division II Super Bowl appearances in his final two seasons with the Clippers, winning it all in 2012. In addition he posted a 23-12 regular-season mark against league foes and won three of the five Thanksgiving matchups against rival Woonsocket.
Reached Friday night, Skurka admitted that the prospect of returning to the college level had been on his mind for quite a while. Short of collecting a second straight Super Bowl this past season, he was able to maximize every ounce of his acumen and devotion for Cumberland’s sake, taking the football team as far as it possibly could at the Division II level.
When the chance came to advance his career presented itself, Skurka found himself pondering the question of choosing to strike while the iron was hot or remain in the high school ranks. In the end, the allure of greener pastures proved too tempting to pass up.
“It’s a tough decision to leave a program, especially one I care so much about. Opportunities don’t come around all that often and I feel this is definitely a step forward,” Skurka expressed. “You’re hungry to get to that next level. Sometimes if you don’t take opportunities, they may not come back again. I just jumped at it and I’m all in and looking forward to bettering myself as a coach and win some games at the college level.
“As a coach, I don’t know if you’re ever really satisfied. If you settle in, that’s when you may not be as successful. You’re always hungry for that next challenge and I think I’m ready for it,” Skurka continued. “I love Cumberland, but this is based on me as a coach who’s trying to get better.”
Formal introductions between Vasey and Skurka were not necessary since the latter cut his teeth as a linebackers’ coach during Vasey’s first three years at the helm at Dean.
The football relationship between the pair extends further. Skurka coached both of Vasey’s sons, first Trevor when he was the defensive coordinator for two seasons at St. Raphael (2007-08) and later younger brother Trent, who was a four-year contributor for Cumberland.
“First and foremost, Chris puts the players first. He understands how important it is to be a role model for them. He’s also a disciplinarian,” was the heady praise offered by Todd Vasey, the onetime grid coach at SRA. “I think Chris can be a great college football coach. Part of the job in my role is to go out and identify those people and bring them in into my place.
“The first time Chris was at Dean, he was a position coach. Now he’s coming back as a coordinator, and a coordinator at the college level is an important role. I’m going to have high expectations for him and I have no doubt that he’s going to perform,” Vasey added. “I’m excited to get someone on my staff with head-coaching experience because if you’ve been a head coach, then you’re going to be a better assistant because you know how hard it is to get good assistants as a head coach.”
You would be hard pressed to find someone refuting the claim that Cumberland football is in much better shape today than when Skurka came onboard following his predecessor Rick Reetz taking a coaching job at a South Carolina prep school in April 2009.
“I think one of the biggest things is that Chris was able to get kids to buy into the program and have pride in it,” said Frank Geiselman, athletic director at Cumberland High. “We’re not in bad shape.”
Echoed Vasey, “It’s unfortunate that Cumberland loses Chris, but there’s going to be a lot of guys who want to be the next head coach.”
At a time when all signs point to Cumberland joining the Division I ranks for the next two-year realignment period that begins this fall, Skurka says that his exit is totally independent of the brave new world that figures to await his now former program. He will remain in his current role as Dean of Students at Cumberland High.
“I told the players that opportunities don’t present themselves all the time. When they do and you don’t grab them, you may never get them again,” said Skurka. “I understand the challenges of coaching in Division I, but I’m looking forward to the challenges of learning the recruiting side of football and the business/financial part of it.”
Having gone through this process of finding a new varsity football head coach fairly recently, Geiselman mentioned that the plan is to form a committee that includes himself, Principal Alan J. Tenreiro and several coaches and parents.
“I don’t want it to go too long,” said Geiselman, presently in the market for a boys’ lacrosse head coach and a head coach for girls’ lacrosse.
Even though he’s yet to dial up a single play or reach out to a potential recruit, Vasey is supremely confident that Dean College will not be Skurka’s final stop on the coaching carousel.
“I think he’s got the potential to use Dean as a stepping stone for bigger and better things,” Vasey pointed out, “and I hope he does.”
College football’s national signing day is Wednesday, Feb. 5. On that day, Lincoln’s Oseh-Lie Saine stands to sign a pretty important document: A National Letter of Intent that solidifies his football commitment to Boston College.
“They’ve already offered and he’s pretty well set on it,” confirmed Tony Johnson, head coach at Worcester Academy, where Saine is presently attending after graduating from Lincoln High last June.
The Eagles offered Saine – standing 6-foot-4 and weighing between 265-270 pounds – a scholarship prior to the prospect breaking his clavicle during Worcester’s Oct. 19 contest. He ended up missing the final three games before undergoing surgery right before Thanksgiving.
“He was really dominating up until getting hurt,” said Johnson, adding that BC envisions Saine as a defensive end. “He’s got great quickness and really good power. He’s unbelievably explosive.”
Saine mostly played linebacker at Lincoln High. It didn’t take Johnson long to realize that Saine was better suited to place his hand on the ground.
“He was itching to play linebacker and it was fun to watch, but he has the ability to take away one side of the field,” said Johnson.
Rehab-wise, Saine is “doing fine” according to Johnson. “He’s coming through pretty cleanly.”
SQUIB KICKS: Pawtucket native and St. Raphael alum Jean-Daniel Roussel has garnered heady praise as the Sacred Heart defensive back was named a FCS Third-Team All-America selection. The honor comes directly from the Associated Press. Roussel picked off a school-record seven passes this past season. Even though he’s on track to graduate in May, Roussel still has one more season of eligibility on the table. On that front, a decision has been yet to be made. … Skurka isn’t the only Cumberland coach making the jump to Dean College. One of his Clipper assistants, Frank Salisbury, takes over as the running backs coach there. Like Skurka, Salisbury has worked on Vasey’s staff before. “It’s pretty unique to coach and go to work every day with one of your best friends,” said Vasey about Salisbury. … Skurka confirmed that Cumberland senior Joe Fine is heading to Bryant University, where his dad Marty is the Bulldogs’ head football coach.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03