To many football fans, the words “Charleroi football” conjure up images of legendary coach R. James “Rab” Currie stalking the sidelines.
Although he did handle the coaching duties at Monessen, where he had starred in the 1940s, for four seasons, when he went to CHS in 1947, his fame really took off, and he would stay on the job through the 1977 season (calling it quits then only because of a mandatory retirement law for teachers).
The Charleroi football program dates back to 1905, with the Cougars racking up well over 500 victories, placing them among the elite in the state. A good chunk of those wins belong to Currie.
Some of his major accomplishments include:
n He was 28-9-1 for the Greyhounds, then 184-97-9 with the Cougars, Monessen’s bitter rival. Not counting ties, his winning percentage stood at a lofty .667. Simply stated, he won twice as many games as he lost.
n He was the first WPIAL coach to reach the 200-win plateau.
n His teams either won or tied for the conference title nine times in all. For this feat, he was the conference’s Coach of the Year a staggering 10 times.
n He ran off an unbelievable skein of 28 consecutive winning seasons.
n His 1956 Charleroi squad had a chance to win the WPIAL title, but lost on a last second-field goal to Jeannette. However, just three years later, he guided the Cougars to the WPIAL crown with a tight upset win over Aliquippa. In that contest he was badly hampered, playing shorthanded with just 28 players.
n He is a member of the Mid Mon Valley All Sports Hall of Fame (Class of 1967) and, in 1989, he was inducted into the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Hall of Fame in just the fourth year of that group’s existence. He is believed to be one of just six coaches with Mon Valley ties to be inducted into that organization.
n He even excelled as a basketball coach, winning a section championship for Monessen in 1943 before coaching Charleroi. There, he chalked up an impressive 101-39 record and won three section titles over his six-year coaching tenure.
n Six of his football players were selected to play in the prestigious Big 33 game: Myron Pottios, Ollie Payne, Pete Goimarac, Gary Hogan, John Verkleeren and Stan Kemp.
n Eight of his players were named to an All-State team, earning either AP or UPI honors. They were Pottios, Payne, Goimarac, Verkleeren, Kemp, Bill Pentz, Dick Kujawski and Tom Hisiro.
n His CHS teams finished in the top 10 for final state rankings seven times: No. 4 in 1956 with a 10-1 record; No. 10 in 1957 at 8-1; No. 1 in 1959 with an untarnished 10-0 slate; No. 8 two years later (8-2); No. 10 in 1962, tied with Monessen, at 8-1-1; No. 10 again in 1966 (8-2); and No. 8 the following season at 8-2 once more.
As a college player, Currie was no slouch, either. He scored the only points his Waynesburg team managed to put on the board in their 6-0 win over Penn State in 1931. He would later be named to the Waynesburg College Hall of Fame.
Currie sent a slew of his players to the college ranks and several to the pros, including Van Voorhis native Pottios, a four-letter man in high school. He called Currie one of the best coaches he ever had. That means a lot coming from a man who played under such NFL coaches as George Allen and Buddy Parker.
Pottios added that Currie, “coached with fire and intimidation — he used psychology to get more out of players than they thought they had. They went beyond another level and they thought, ‘Wow, we can do it.’” Currie was tough on his troops, but he was every bit as inspiring.
By the way, Pottios, who made the long trek from playing football at Charleroi High to playing in a Super Bowl, will soon be honored when the Cougars football field will be named after him. Their old stadium, some argue, should have been named after Currie a long time ago.
Observers outside the Charleroi circle also have tales of Currie. Paul Zolak, a longtime football coach and director of athletics, recalled Currie telling him, “Think about it Paul. All the years I’ve been coaching, how many parents disliked me.”
Asked to explain, Currie continued, “Well, you’ve got the son that’s playing guard and his parents want him to be the fullback so he can carry the ball. Then you have the second team guard’s parents whose kid’s not playing. ... Look how many enemies I’ve made over the years.”
Perhaps he had a point, but if he had added in all the frustrated opposing coaches who lost to him again and again, Currie’s list of jealous rivals would have made his enemies list much longer.