DeMatha football coach continues to lead and inspire
By Chris McManes
Kevin Davis graduated from DeMatha Catholic High School 35 years ago. But the Fairfax County (Va.) police chief doesn’t make an important decision without contacting his former football coach Bill McGregor.
“There hasn’t been a time in my adult life that I’ve lost contact with Bill. I still rely on him as a mentor, a coach and a teacher to this day,” said Davis, who played two years of varsity football for the Stags and had McGregor as a teacher. “He’s still an influential person in my life.”
Despite being one victory shy of a rare personal achievement, McGregor is quick to credit assistant coaches, faculty, staff, administrators and players for bringing him to the brink of 300 career victories.
“I’m fortunate to have worked here at DeMatha and to have the tremendous support of so many people,” McGregor said. “They’ve all made great things happen for our program.”
McGregor, now in his 33rd year as the Stags’ head coach, has a career record of 299-49-3 (.856 winning percentage). Only three coaches in Maryland high school football history have won 300 or more games. His first chance to join the club comes Friday night at 7 p.m. when No. 2 DeMatha hosts McNamara at Wilson Stadium in Landover.
The Stags enter with a record of 5-1. They won their opening Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) game last week with a 27-3 victory at Gonzaga. DeMatha’s defense has recorded four shutouts and allowed just one touchdown all year.
“One thing Bill taught us and continues to teach is that effort and execution are non-negotiable if you’re a DeMatha football player,” Davis said. “Bill has an outstanding ability to inspire people. I’ve never had a coach in my life who was more inspirational than Bill.
“He brings out the best in DeMatha football players.”
McGregor has never had a losing season and has coached six undefeated teams. From 1997 to 2006, his record was 107-8-1 (.927). USA Today ranked his 1986 squad No. 6 in the nation. Davis was a senior starting quick-side offensive guard that year for the 10-0 Stags.
“Our defense only allowed 49 points the whole year,” said Davis, who grew up in College Park. “Our closest game was against McNamara. We won 17-14 in a come-from-behind victory. We had the poise to come back because of Bill. By challenging us in practice and games, it brought out the best in us.”
Davis said that McGregor is a master of his profession.
“Bill has mastered the art form of coaching,” he said. “That art form has to do with how he interacts and leads other humans, particularly young men.”
Former Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs, whose son Coy played for the Stags, called McGregor “the best high school coach in the country.”
Bob Milloy, head coach at Good Counsel from 2001-16, competed against McGregor several times. Their teams met in the WCAC championship game seven years in a row. DeMatha won the first five (2004-08) and the Falcons the final two.
“We had some terrific games,” Milloy said. “Unfortunately, I was on the losing end for most of them. We had some great wins and a couple of heartbreaking losses.”
After losing the league title to the Stags 34-7 in 2008, Good Counsel broke through the following year with a 14-7 victory.
“DeMatha was the measure of greatness,” Milloy said. “Over the years, we beat them a few times in the regular season, but they’d get us in the final game. … They were just two very talented teams, very well-coached teams. We’d have 10-12,000 people [in attendance] over there at Navy and Maryland when we played them.
“It was just top-notch football with probably 12 to 15 Division I players on the field at all times.”
Milloy concluded his 47-year head coaching career in 2016 with a Maryland high school-record 405 victories. He and McGregor often found themselves recruiting the same players.
“Bill was an insatiable recruiter; he was good at it and he stuck with it,” said Milloy, who coached football, baseball and taught at DeMatha from 1967-70. “He was harder to beat recruiting than he was on the field.”
After teaching English at Good Counsel for one semester, McGregor came to DeMatha in 1972. Former principal John Moylan hired him to coach JV football and baseball, oversee the weight room and drive a bus. He also taught sophomore American literature and later freshman English.
McGregor served as varsity defensive coordinator from 1979-81 and became head coach in 1982 when Jerry Franks departed. That year he led the Stags to the Washington Metropolitan Athletic Conference (WMAC) championship, the forerunner of the WCAC. It was DeMatha’s first league title since Morgan Wootten was at the helm in 1967.
When asked which of his victories stand out the most, he cited that 1982 championship game win over Gonzaga, 21-14. The contest, played at the University of Maryland, was tied at 14. With 13 seconds remaining, quarterback Erik Chapman found Joe Connolly for a 62-yard touchdown.
“In DeMatha folklore, we call it the ‘Immaculate Reception,’” McGregor recalled. “We had not won a championship in 15 years, so there was a pretty long drought. Our offensive line made some great blocks to give Erik enough time to throw the ball, and Joe made a spectacular catch.
“There are so many games you can go back and look at and say, ‘how did we do that?’ We had some unbelievable games over the course of time with Carroll, St. John’s and Good Counsel.”
Glory and honors
McGregor has guided DeMatha to 17 conference championships. In addition to 1982, his teams won the WMAC in 1984, ’86, ’91 and ’92. The Stags captured the first three WCAC titles (1993-95) and again in 1998, 2000 and 2001. From 2003-08, they dominated the league with six consecutive titles.
In The Washington Post’s annual football rankings, McGregor-led squads have seven times finished No. 1. In 1999 and 2009, the publication named DeMatha the “Program of the Decade.”
Following the 2010 season, McGregor was an assistant coach at Gilman High for five years (2011-15) and then three at St. Frances Academy, both in Baltimore.
He returned to lead the Stags in 2019 and was named WCAC co-Coach of the Year. Since the formation of the conference in 1993, it was the 12th time McGregor was cited as the league’s top coach. The Post honored him as Coach of the Year in 2003.
McGregor drew national attention to DeMatha when he was named 2004 NFL High School Football Coach of the Year. The award honors “coaches who profoundly impacted the athletic and personal development of NFL players.”
McGregor was recognized at the 2005 Super Bowl and was on the field for the coin toss. Brian Westbrook, one of his star players who played in that Super Bowl, nominated him.
“Bill was and continues to be an inspiration and source of support to me,” Westbrook said in a news release.
Using football to pay for college
Westbrook is one of more than 20 of McGregor’s former players to play in the NFL. They include, among others, Rodney McLeod, Josh Wilson, J.B. Brown, Bobby Houston, Mike Johnson, Tony Paige, Steve Smith and Cameron Wake. More importantly, McGregor has helped over 375 former players get an NCAA Division 1 scholarship.
“One of the things that’s really helped the program is that we’ve gotten so many young men into college on full football scholarships,” McGregor said. “I think this spring we had 149 college coaches come to campus. A big part of my job is helping the kids get into school and get a free education.”
McGregor, who also directed the Stags to four WMAC baseball championships, takes great delight in his players’ achievements in college and beyond.
“A lot of guys use football as a means to continue their education and have gone on in life and just done some wonderful things for themselves and their families,” he said. “That’s what really makes you most proud. You want the young men who play for you to be good sons, grandsons, husbands and fathers.
“I’m just so proud of so many of these guys and what they have accomplished.”
McGregor relies heavily on the work done by DeMatha’s teachers and staff.
“The educational aspect of the school is top-notch,” he said. “When I have parents in my office and I tell them that their son is going to get a first-class education at DeMatha, I firmly believe it. Our teachers, counselors and others do an outstanding job.”
McGregor’s wife, Brenda, helps him with some administrative functions, including team communications. You can find her on the sideline of every game.
“Brenda brings out the best in Bill,” Davis said. “I think we all need people to help us succeed, and Brenda absolutely puts Bill in a position to be successful.”
Former Maryland quarterback Scott McBrien, who led the Stags to an undefeated season in 1998, transferred to DeMatha from Good Counsel. In his book, Terrapin Tales, he called McGregor “one of the best high school football coaches in the country.”
“The assistant coaches were top-flight as well,” McBrien wrote. “DeMatha was where I learned the game of football. The offense was so much more complex and detailed than anything I had previously experienced. I was taught how to read defensive fronts and secondary coverages. I had the freedom to check out of plays and audible according to the defensive look. It was a whole new ball game for me, coming from Good Counsel.
“DeMatha was a football program that prepared kids for the collegiate level. That was, and still is, why college coaches are a constant presence at the school. It was clear to me now: this was the reason I had transferred. Back then there was no social media, recruiting sites, or ways to promote yourself. Bill McGregor was a well-known and respected coach, and I knew that if I played for him, I was going to get looks from college coaches.”
McGregor continues to help his young men get on the radar of college programs across the country. Jason Moore (Ohio State) and Michael Crounse (Boston College) are among this year’s seniors earning full scholarships.
McGregor said he has no immediate plans to retire: “I don’t have time to think about that. My main concern right now is beating McNamara.”
In his sophomore English class, Davis saw another side of McGregor.
“His three daughters were really little at the time, and I remember a couple times Bill would have one of more of them with him,” he said. “Bill is not only a legendary coach, he’s equally a great husband and a father.”
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) covers DeMatha football for the Hyattsville Life & Times