Brookhaven’s Marist School and Buckhead’s Westminster Schools boast two of the metro area’s longest-serving head football coaches. Alan Chadwick, in his 30th year at Marist, and Gerry Romberg, Westminster’s coach for 23 years, share more than longevity.
Both coaches have piled up impressive records and regularly keep their teams in the state championship hunt despite working at private schools with strong academic programs. Both coaches have an old-school commitment to high-school ball.
Then there’s the direct connection: Romberg played for Chadwick years ago during one year of middle school at Marist. “He doesn’t advertise that very much,” Chadwick said with a laugh. “He is an excellent football coach. He knows the game extremely well,” Chadwick quickly added.
Romberg said he’s proud he had a chance to play for Chadwick—and hopes their schools will soon be scheduled to play against each other, as they were in the 1990s.
“You talk about consistency and continuity, he’s the model of that,” Romberg said of Chadwick. “He’s the most competitive guy I’ve ever met in my life.”
These days, Romberg said, few coaches stay put as long as he and Chadwick have. “A lot of coaches are going to bounce around and chase state championships,” he said, and there is more NFL-style pressure for schools to fire coaches who don’t win quickly.
Chadwick was a star player at Decatur High and a record-setting quarterback at East Tennessee State. He was drafted by the Chicago Bears but ended up not making an NFL roster. He started coaching at Marist in 1976 and became head coach in 1985. In 2012, he became one of the state’s few high school coaches to break the 300-win mark. He has coached Marist to two state championships and his teams have won more than eight of every 10 games they’ve played.
Romberg came to Westminster after coaching stints at public and private high schools, including Dunwoody High and Washington, D.C.’s Maret School, as well as at the college level at the Citadel and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. In 2009, he became Westminster’s most winning coach. A championship remains elusive, but Romberg keeps his teams consistently in the running, including 18 trips to the playoffs—including last season’s 12-2 team—and two to the state semifinals.
Both men said they thrive on the challenge of keeping their teams competitive and have a love for the high-school game.
“I just enjoy this age group,” Romberg said, praising Westminster’s hard-working students. “Over the years, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to develop [and help] young boys mature into adults we can be proud of. Sometimes I feel like football is just a vehicle to help these young men progress into successful adults.”
Chadwick says the power of his support staff and Marist’s traditions are part of what has kept him at the school for three decades.
“It’s the people and just the overall environment at Marist,” he said. “It’s such a uniquely wonderful place to work and to play. … Five of my varsity staff members played here [and] came back to coach.”
Marist is famed for still using the running-game-based wishbone offense. “We’ve been running it for 40-plus years,” Chadwick said. “We’ve tweaked it a good bit.”
“We don’t always have the types of athletes [opponents] do,” Chadwick said of Marist’s method of grinding opponents down. “You’re not going to see us run a lot of fakes, or a lot of razzle-dazzle.”
“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” Romberg said of the concept underlying Westminster’s program. “We use the word ‘family.’ It’s the cornerstone of our program.”
High-school football also goes through changes, often trickling down from the NFL. Programs to reduce concussions and other injuries are a big change these days. Chadwick said he’s not a fan of most of them, calling them “conversations of mommas not letting ‘baby’ play football anymore.”
Concussion-reduction efforts have been good, he said, but added, “I’m seeing the kids today not being as overly aggressive and physical as they need to be to play this game,” he said.
Romberg said a game against Marist was crucial to his first season, when he took over a team struggling with coaching turnovers and off-field issues. Going up against a far superior Marist team, they battled to a 7-7 halftime tie. “Alan just went ballistic. [Marist] came out [after] the half and just blitzkrieged us” to win the game, Romberg recalled.
But by standing their ground against a better team, “The kids realized I was dedicated to making this program as good as it can be,” he said.
Chadwick recalls those battles fondly as well. “They knew us better than we knew ourselves,” he said of the Romberg-coached Westminster teams.
That’s why both coaches clearly wish they had one more thing in common: more chances to play each other.