WOONOCKET — Three years ago, George Briggs retired from a more than three-decade career as a educator in the Woonsocket school system.
Briggs was also contemplating doing the same from his post as the longtime (and successful) track and cross-country coach at the high school level.
But one dedicated individual, one person he's had the opportunity to work alongside for the past four years has made him think otherwise — his good friend and girls' head cross-country, track coach Dan Richard.
“He's just a great guy to coach with and I've coached with some really good people over the years,” Briggs said. “I really think he is the reason that I am still coaching.”
On Saturday afternoon, shortly after the final event finished at the R.I. Indoor Track & Field Championships, the 54-year-old Richard was named by his peers as the Girls' Coach of the Year. This winter, his Lady Novans completed a perfect 8-0 dual-meet season and captured their second straight title in the Dwyer Division Championship.
In Briggs' eyes, the honor was not only well-deserved, but one that could have been issued to his counterpart on several other occasions.
Richard, a retired Air Force pilot who heads the Junior ROTC program at the high school, began his coaching career at Woonsocket midway into the indoor track season in Dec. of 2007 after the untimely death of then-coach Bobby Doyle, the legendary R.I. marathoner.
Since coming on board, Richard's squads (cross country, indoor and outdoor track) have made a dramatic turnaround from years past in terms of wins and losses as well as quality athletes. After a winless season in cross country in 2007, Woonsocket averaged more than five victories in the Northern Division the past three years under Richard. The outdoor program, which had a combined five wins in the two years prior to his arrival, has been among the top squads in the league the last few springs, highlighted by a second-place finish in 2009 with an 8-1 record.
Of course, there are also the indoor teams that are quietly making some noise with a surplus of talented individuals, including 2010 outdoor high jump champion Kaylnn Pitts.
Briggs says the key to his fellow coach's success is his ability to draw student-athletes to the program. Pitts was one of those athletes who Richard persuaded to join the team.
“Ever since we had a girls' track we've always had good individuals,” Briggs said. “Our problem was the numbers. What you need are 20-30 athletes. Dan is an incredible recruiter. He just goes out and gets people. He's a tough guy to say no to.”
“He’s just very well-organized with a military can-do attitude,” he continued. "When he started, we had a small team. He goes after people. He's got an eye for talent
What impresses Briggs about Richard, an accomplished runner with more than 40 marathons under his belt, is his personal touch with each individual on the team and his knowledge of the various events.
“In all my years of coaching, and I've coached with some outstanding coaches, Dan ranks right up there” said Briggs, while listing such respected predecessors as Doyle, Ira Brown, John McLaughlin and current Blackstone-Millville Regional coach Kevin Maloney, “He knows all the events. His strong point is the distant events, but he also knows the high jump, the hurdles, the sprints. Dan coaches the whole team.”
Briggs went on to say how he's learned a few things from Richard, most notably the individualized attention he gives to his athletes. When the team boards the bus for a particular meet, Richard is always there with a high-five ready for each individual.
“The big problem with us over the years was numbers. Now, we got 40 girls. He treats everyone those girls special,” he said. “He's really something. He takes a personal interest in all the girls. With Dan, every girl gets the same attention.”