It’s not too much of a stretch to say that Joe Gladys is to Monessen what Vince Lombardi was to Green Bay.
Like Lombardi, Gladys’ name is synonymous with football success. Like the Packers, the Greyhounds tradition is as rich as it is lengthy — the Monessen High School program dates back to 1905, and their teams have amassed well over 600 victories, among the elite in the state. Gladys clearly was a huge part of it all.
In the mid-1940s, Gladys (Class of ’47) starred for the Greyhounds as their quarterback, earning All-State honors as a senior before he went on to Fairmont State College where he again quarterbacked his team.
He served his country in the Korean War and later began his 23-year head coaching career at Monessen in 1960. There, his teams won their conference nearly 50 percent of the time (11 titles) while racking up a record of 153-64-9, good for a sterling winning percentage of just a bit over .700.
The 11-time Big 10 Conference Coach of the Year also won the Class AA WPIAL title in 1961, and in 1978 he was named as a coach on the West team’s Big 33 staff. All of those achievements helped earn him a spot in the Pennsylvania High School Hall of Fame.
The 1961 Gladys squad racked up an unblemished record along the way while holding opponents scoreless seven times. At the end of the regular season, they, Joe Namath’s Beaver Falls team, and Wilkinsburg all finished undefeated, but Beaver Falls fell short of making the playoffs under the Gardner Rating System. Monessen earned its 11th win in the WPIAL title game with a grueling 7-6 decision over Wilkinsburg.
From 1960-1963, Monessen was among the top 10 teams in Pennsylvania each season in the Saylor rankings, and it ranked No. 1 in 1961. The Greyhounds’ dynastic record over that four-year span glistened at 35-3-2.
Gladys coached 16 players who were selected to play in the prestigious Big 33 game. Further, more than a dozen of his Greyhound players were named to either first-, second-, or third-team All-State honors as chosen by the UPI.
Over the decades, Monessen High has reportedly sent 13 football players to the NFL, a staggering amount for a small school. The majority of them — eight — were coached by Gladys: Sam Havrilak, Bill Malinchak, Doug Crusan, Eric Crabtree, Tony Benjamin, Jo Jo Heath, Julius Dawkins and one of his sons, Eugene.
In fact, as Havrilak stated, “Crabtree and Malinchak were seniors [Class of ’62] and won the WPIAL championship the year Crusan was a sophomore and I was a freshman. Eventually all four of us made it into the NFL and all played at the same time.”
Malinchak thought highly of Gladys. “I always thought he could have been a good coach at any level,” he said. “The turning point in my career and in the success of the Monessen High program was when Gladys was chosen to be the head coach. He was just a really talented, great communicator, a great teacher. He really knew how to handle young men, and for me he was the perfect coach. I don’t think I would have had the kind of success that I had if it wasn’t for him. Joe was spectacular, one of the best coaches I ever had.”
It wasn’t just Monessen players who were impressed with Gladys. Havrilak said that while his high school career wasn’t exactly sparkling, he was still heavily recruited by around 30 colleges. He believes that was “probably because of the reputation of my high school and of Gladys.”
One Monessen opponent, Myron Pottios, who played his high school football at Charleroi before going on to become a three-time Pro Bowl honoree in the NFL, said he, too, was always very impressed with the Gladys program.
“That Monessen group had a lot of success,” Pottios said. “Boy, those guys were something in the late 50s and through the 60s — that group: Havrilak, Malinchak and Crusan, guys who played in the Super Bowl. Crusan played for the undefeated Dolphins who beat us [the Redskins] in Super Bowl VII.”
Havrilak, who played in the NFL under legendary coach Don Shula and under Howard Schnellenberger, said Gladys’ strong point was simple.
“I think he utilized his personnel probably better than a lot of coaches I’ve played for,” Havrilak said. “You have to remember that back in those days Monessen High School had a lot of guys out for football. I’m thinking he carried 70, 80 guys on the team, which is a lot for high school.”
In a way, he also figuratively carried many a player on his back, helping them in many ways. Gladys passed away in 2015 at the age of 85.