BY JEFF FALK
Eighty-one years young, and sharp as a tack.
Forgot more football than most coaches know, but still able to recall and recite specific dates, players, games and teams.
In touch with the past, but in tune with the present.
Stays connected with the game he loves, but on his own terms.
Will give you his opinion, if you ask. And sometimes even when you don’t.
Norbie Danz is still Norbie Danz. He’s not enjoying his retirement, he’s living it.
In many ways, Danz is a living legend. The most celebrated coach in the history of Lebanon County football, Danz remains on the periphery of the sport, with occasional forays into its inner circle.
“I feel OK,” said Danz recently from his summer home in Mount Gretna. “But how do you know what 81-year-olds are supposed to feel like? I walk some, I ride bike some, I swim a little.
“Well, I don’t know (if he misses coaching). Not really,” Danz continued. “Sometimes when I see things happen, I like to help. I don’t think I miss it too much. To tell you the truth, I had enough. When I go to games now, I can leave at halftime. I had to stay for the whole game when I was coaching.”
Once a fixture on the sidelines, Danz is now a fixture in the stands at Cedar Crest football games. He attends every Falcon contest and scrimmage – and even some practices – that his leisurely schedule allows, before retiring to Florida for the fall and winter months.
Recently, he has even taken to assisting youngest son Chris Danz, who is heading the CQM midget football program. Once a coach, always a coach.
“One more week and it’ll end,” said Danz of his impending migration to the Sunshine State. “In the summer, I’ll see scrimmages and go to practices. I have an interest in Cedar Crest football. I always check on McCaskey too. It’s part of your life. You just can’t cut it off. There were a lot of great experiences. You want to feel you’re still part of it.
“I coached a lot of years,” added Danz. “When we started it was the straight-T (offense) and we didn’t throw that much. They’ve been running the option since I’ve been coaching. The best teams are basically running teams who can throw real well. The great teams have good defenses. You need talent, good speed and good coaching.”
Danz retired in 1996, after 37 years of being a head coach, and following his second stint as the Falcons’ head man. Since then, he has kept tabs on Cedar Crest’s ups and downs, over the past 28 years.
“When I left, Spike (Gene Fuhrman) was coaching and they had a great run, great players, great teams,” said Danz. “But they ran out of enough material to compete. The last 11 years they haven’t been very competitive. Why? I couldn’t tell you. Some years they just didn’t have enough talent. Their league (Section One of the Lancaster-Lebanon League) is tough.
“This year, they (the Falcons) have some really good skill people,” Danz continued. “They’re going to win some games. Cedar Crest has great speed. But Lower Dauphin (Cedar Crest’s last opponent) is very, very good. I was impressed with them. (CC junior, Evan) Horn is a great player. Lower Dauphin had four or five Horns. They just outmanned Cedar Crest. That was a real good football team.”
A graduate of Lancaster Catholic, Danz is widely recognized with establishing a highly successful Lebanon Catholic football program in the late 1950s. Then in the mid 1960s, Danz was one of the founding fathers of Cedar Crest’s program.
Then after taking the head coaching position at McCaskey for ten seasons, he returned to Cedar Crest in 1986. Danz won everywhere he went, including three championships at Lebanon Catholic, Cedar Crest and McCaskey.
“I was lucky to be at (Lebanon) Catholic High. It was a great school,” said Danz. “The kids were great. They had spirit. They were competitive. They always seemed to play hard and they never gave up. I don’t want to mention any one player because I’m afraid I’d leave someone out. But what a great time. It was great for me to be able to coach at a school like that. I had to leave because I had to get into a public school because of the money and retirement. But when I went to Cedar Crest, we weren’t as tight as we were at Catholic High.
“I played all sports in high school,” Danz added. “You kind of looked up to coaches. But going through high school, I thought, ‘You know what? I want to coach. I was lucky enough to get the jobs. That’s all I wanted to do in life, be a guidance counselor and coach football.”
Through that guidance counseling and coaching, Danz literally touched and affected thousands of young lives during his career. But Danz may not have known what he was doing while he was doing it.
“The one thing I was lucky with was I had good assistants,” said Danz. “They were good coaches who cared about kids too. We worked them (the players) and made sure they knew how to play football. I knew there were guys who got head jobs.
“You don’t know,” continued Danz. “It’s just like the kids. You don’t know you have an influence on them. But I’ve got a box of letters thanking me for caring and listening. But that’s after the fact. You don’t know while it’s going on. You always hope you do (influence them). I’ll see kids now and they’re not kids any more. And they call me ‘coach’. And I tell them you don’t have to call me that any more. You can call me ‘Norbie’.”
Not unlike all of us, Danz’s existence is day-to-day. It’s an existence which will always involve coaching on some level.
“Every now and then, I go down there and I see things happening,” said Danz of volunteering his services to son Chris at CQM. “So I butt in. I try not to upset Chris too much. I don’t want to step on his toes. I give input, then I leave.
“I enjoy doing it,” concluded Danz. “I have a grandson who’s playing quarterback for CQM, so I’m going to go down and make sure my son doesn’t screw him up. When I leave practice, I feel good. But I wouldn’t want to do it every night.”
Cedar Crest Football Coaching History
2014 – Rob Wildasin
2009-2013 – Tom Waranavage
2004-2008 – Mike Robinson
1996-2003 – Gene ‘Spike’ Fuhrman
1986-1995 – Norbie Danz
1983-1985 – Barry Heckard
1976-1982 – Dennis Tulli
1969-1975 – Norbie Danz
1965-1968 – Tom Auman