Eric Depew said it was a difficult decision.
Then he acknowledged it was also pretty easy.
After a dominant 10-year run as the head football coach at York Catholic, Depew resigned last week to return to his alma mater. He was officially hired as head coach at Red Land High School Thursday night. Depew is a 1989 Red Land graduate and still lives “within five to 10 minutes” of northern York County school that competes mostly against Harrisburg area teams in the Mid-Penn Conference.
“This was a job I always wanted and a job I dreamed about,” Depew said. “It’s hard to leave York Catholic because of the relationships I built with the players and parents and we were very successful. But this is where I belong.”
In 10 years at York Catholic, Depew led the Irish to an 83-40 record, four YAIAA Division III titles and three District 3 Class 2A titles in 2016, 2018 and 2021. The Irish played in a district title game eight straight years from 2014. to 2021. Prior to Depew’s hiring, the Irish hadn’t won a District 3 title since 1982.
In the days following Depew’s resignation, York Catholic promoted his longtime defensive coordinator, Brad Hayek, to head coach in an effort to continue the consistency he established.
A standout lineman for Red Land in the late 1980s, Depew got into coaching shortly after graduation as a volunteer assistant at Cedar Cliff. He then coached at his alma mater from 1990 until 2003 and again from 2006 until 2011, culminating as defensive coordinator. He was an assistant at Dover High School between those stints.
He said he applied for the Red Land head coaching job in 2011 and was disappointed to not get an interview, though he understood the district was looking to hire a teacher for the position at that time. A longtime truck driver who works night shifts, Depew said some of the players he coached early in his first tenure at Red Land now have sons who play in the program.
“When I heard that, I said, ‘Holy moly, am I that old?,'” the 51-year-old Depew said. “This is an outstanding place with great support and top-notch kids who are intelligent and well-taught. And it’s a great community and fan base that supports football. It’s a win-win.”
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However, Red Land hasn’t had a winning season since 2016 or made the postseason since 2014. A Class 5A program, the Patriots are coming off a 2-8 season under former coach Frank Gay.
Gay led the Patriots to their only District 3 title in 2006 before departing in 2011 for Camp Hill, where he won two more district titles. He hoped to revive Red Land’s program upon returning in 2018, but the Patriots went 10-27 over the past four seasons.
When he surprisingly stepped down last month, Gay told the Carlisle Sentinel that “I came to the realization that I don’t think I’m the right guy for this job.”
“I’ve been trying to change the culture at Red Land for four years,” Gay told the Sentinel. “And it’s been a really tough process, I’m not gonna lie. I’ve got some really, really good kids, but I found myself growing more and more frustrated … That’s not fair to them, it’s not fair.
“Coaching has changed over the course of the last four years, for sure, and I just looked in the mirror and said, ‘Am I the guy for this job?”
Depew, who coached under Gay for a number of seasons, said he received a message of congratulations from the former Patriots coach. But Depew said Red Land ― which has one of the most dominant baseball programs in the state and has also had some recent success in boys’ lacrosse and wrestling ― has the potential to be much better at football.
With most of his coaching staff at York Catholic remaining with Hayek and the Irish, Depew said he’s in the process of reaching out to potential assistants. The Patriots will bring back some returning starters on the offensive line, but talented rising junior quarterback Roman Jensen recently announced his transfer to the Maret School in Washington, DC
“It kind of boggles the mind to see them not winning many games,” Depew said about Red Land. “Growing up in the community, I know the type of kids there are here and we should be better.
“I know in my heart success is coming. Once the kids get to know me and see I’m the real deal and coming from the heart, we’re going to bring back that excitement for football.”
His dad ‘would be thrilled’
Growing up in Red Land, Depew said he and his brothers were constantly treated to stories about their father’s glory days on the gridiron.
“He played on the 1959 East Pennsboro team that was undefeated and unscored upon,” Depew said about his father. “He always bragged about it. He was so proud about that.”
Lindsay Depew died on May 19 at age 79. His memorial service was last Friday, the same day his son’s resignation at York Catholic was announced.
Eric said his father never missed one of his games as a player and “maybe missed five” of the games that he coached. He said he’ll be emotional on Aug. 26 when Red Land opens the season on the road against Northern York without his father in attendance.
He said he was just starting to think about applying for the Red Land job the last time he spoke with his father and didn’t have the chance to discuss it with him.
Still, he believes his father would be happy that he’s “back home.”
“He would be thrilled. He just wanted me to be happy,” Depew said. “It’s going to be hard for me, but I know he’s in a better place and he’s up there watching. He’s one of the reasons I have this passion for football. Growing up going to Penn State games and seeing the happiness it created, I wanted to be a part of that. And now I’m about to go back to the place where it all started.”
Matt Allibone is a sports reporter for GameTimePA. He can be reached at 717-881-8221, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @bad2theallibone.