BLAIRSVILLE — Although the Blairsville-Saltsburg school board and former Blairsville football coach Ab Dettorre didn’t often see eye-to-eye, which was largely the reason for his abrupt resignation last month, the sides agreed on one thing: Dettorre’s successor.
Blairsville’s longtime offensive coordinator and an assistant coach under Dettorre for the past 15 years, Rick Artley was appointed as Dettorre’s successor Tuesday morning at a meeting of the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District school board. The board approved Artley’s appointment in a sweeping vote, making him only the third Blairsville coach since 1966.
“In the past 50 years or so, there’s only been two coaches here, so hopefully, I can keep that going,” Artley said. “I’ve only been in the district for 15 years, so I’d like to stay around for another 20-25 years. That’s my mindset, to be here for the long haul.”
After turning in his one-sentence resignation letter to the board on June 6, Dettorre said publicly that he hoped one of his assistants would get the job, and he hoped the hiring would be made sooner rather than later with the season fast approaching.
As the weeks passed without resolution, Dettorre got in the ear of his friend and former assistant, Jim Buckles, who was appointed the new director of athletics at Blairsville under Tuesday’s sweeping vote.
“I told our new athletic director, Jim Buckles, this wasn’t time to fool around and have a nationwide search,” Dettorre said. “The bottom line is, there are more than enough guys on their staff who are qualified. Fortunately, (Buckles) was able to convince them to get this done now. If it would have been left up to them, it wouldn’t have gotten done until August.”
“I’m very happy for him,” he said of Artley. “He’s been loyal for 15 years. That’s kind of surprising in itself that it’s been that long already. … He has good knowledge of the game, he always called a great game for us, he has a good mix of the pass and run. He got experience with Coach (George) Mihalik at Slippery Rock, and he had a great opportunity to learn the game. He’s more than prepared.
“I’m more than confident that Rick will get the job done.”
He’s not shying away from it, but Artley knows he has big shoes to fill.
In 26 seasons as head coach, from 1987 through 2012, Dettorre amassed a 147-99-4 record with six conference titles, including four Heritage Conference crowns since the formation of the league in 2000.
Dettorre replaced the legendary Ernie Widmar, who coached from 1966 to 1986 and went 126-67-2 in 21 seasons. Dettorre was an assistant under Widmar for seven seasons.
That leaves Artley with the same daunting challenge that Dettorre faced in 1987: succeeding a legendary, longtime coach.
“If I can be half as successful as Coach Dettorre and prior to him, Coach Widmar — in terms of longevity and getting things accomplished on the field — if I could do half of what they did, I’ll feel like I did a good job,” Artley said.
“And not only on the field, but the things they’ve done off the field, the things Coach Dettorre was able to accomplish off the field helping kids in the community. If you do half of what they did, you could say you were successful. It’ll definitely be tough to follow.”
A physical education teacher at Blairsville for the past 15 years, Artley, 39, will continue to call the offensive plays for the Bobcats, he said.
A standout quarterback in his own right during his playing days, Artley is a 1992 Northern Cambria graduate who went on to play at Slippery Rock from 1992 to 1996.
When he joined the Blairsville staff prior to the 1998 season, Artley said he hoped to some day get a chance to be a head coach, but he never envisioned being an assistant for 15 seasons. That Artley did stay on as long as he did in an assistant role is a credit to Dettorre, he said.
“If Coach didn’t allow me to run our offense for the past eight, nine years, maybe it would have been more difficult (to stay on as an assistant),” Artley said. “But if he would have stayed 10 more years, it wouldn’t have affected me. Coach gave us so much leeway as far as coaching, and I wasn’t going to go somewhere else just to be a head coach.
“He didn’t dictate everything, and we weren’t just going through the motions as assistants. He made it more enjoyable, especially for me running the offense. He always let me do whatever I wanted to do offensively. I think it’s always been beneficial for us that he’s allowed us to do that, to not be listed as the head coach but to still make a lot of decisions. Hopefully, I can do the same.”
The rest of the paid coaching staff will remain the same. Neil Stone is the top assistant and will serve as the defensive coordinator, Bryan Gould will be the second assistant, and Mark DeMarines will be the third assistant.
Previously, Gould and DeMarines were third assistant co-coaches.
“Our entire staff has stayed on. They moved up the ladder, basically,” Artley said. “The transition will be very easy. … I don’t think the kids will have a difficult time transitioning, and they know all of us. It should be pretty seamless from that standpoint.”
Like most high school programs, Blairsville also has a few unpaid volunteer coaches, but Dettorre won’t be one of them, even if he wanted to.
“It’s a time when Rick and those guys need to establish themselves as coaches, and I really didn’t consider it,” Dettorre said of volunteering. “But it was rejected (by the board). For whatever reason, the board deemed that after 33 years, I can’t even be around the program.
“I wish these guys the best. Anything I can do, whether it’s fundraising or anything else I can do, I’ll help.”
“Trying to follow in his footsteps will be tough,” Artley said, “but I think he’s developed me as a coach over the last 15 years and he’s given us the tools to be successful. Hopefully that can translate to the field.”