Late Centerville coach remembered as ‘master motivator’ who was larger than life

Bob Gregg in 1974
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Bob Gregg in 1974

Bob Gregg ranks 15th in state history in career victories

Steve Milano remembers Bob Gregg as a coach ahead of his time. Gregg asked his Centerville High School football players to outwork their competitors in a day when most teams didn’t train the entire year for the fall season.

“We were lifting weights from January through May,” said Milano, a 1988 Centerville graduate who played on the offensive line. “In June, at 5 in the morning, we had to come into the high school to lift weights, and then he would incorporate some calisthenics into that and some other plyometrics and cardio. Then in July, we’d still have weights in the morning at 5 a.m., but at 4 p.m., we’d come back for two-a-days. It wasn’t with pads. It was just running. In July, all we did was run. When August came around, we were all little pieces of iron, and our opponents were just starting to practice.”

Gregg, who died on Sunday at 88, graduated from Centerville in 1951 and Wilmington College, where he played halfback, in 1955. He started his head coaching career at Jefferson High School, where he had a record of 82-27-5 in 12 seasons. His Jefferson won seven straight league championships. He also coached track for 14 seasons.

Gregg won his last 29 games as head coach at Jefferson before moving on to Centerville in 1973. His first two teams won a total of seven games, but his next 12 teams won Western Ohio League championships. He spent 27 seasons on the job, winning 16 WOL titles and compiling a record of 219-62.

With a career record of 301-89-5, Gregg ranks 15th in state history in victories, according to the Ohio High School Athletic Association record book. He was inducted into the Ohio High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 1996 and the Wilmington College Hall of Fame in 1998. He retired from Centerville after the 1999 season.

“He was a coach that that would scream and yell and push you to your limits,” said Craig Schmidt, a 1988 Centerville graduate who played center, “but he always had a message. He was really big on trying to turn us into young men — not just great football players.”

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During his high school career, Schmidt snapped the ball to all-state quarterback Kirk Herbstreit, who paid tribute to Gregg on Twitter on Sunday.

“Coach was a legend on the field but so much more,” wrote Herbstreit, the longtime ESPN college football analyst who played at Ohio State. “He was TOUGH, DEMANDING, at times intimidating. But he taught us about TEAM, HARD WORK, PERSEVERANCE & SACRIFICE. Blessed to have him in my life!”

Milano called Gregg a “master motivator,” comparing him to Mickey, the trainer in the Rocky movies.

“He was tough as nails,” Milano said, “and maybe it’s overused, but he was a man’s man, and he would get the best out of each individual person. What you thought you could achieve, he would put you in a different stratosphere of what you would achieve. You would achieve so much under his motivation that you couldn’t believe it looking back. He was an absolute incredible speaker. His halftime and pregame speeches were absolutely incredible. If I had a tape recorder, I’d listen to him every day. He had us foaming from the mouth.”

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Bob Gregg, Centerville

Bob Gregg, Centerville
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Bob Gregg, Centerville

Dan Tarpey, an assistant superintendent at Centerville, coached on Gregg’s staff from 1987-95. He was the defensive backs coach in 1991 when Centerville reached the state championship game for the first time, losing 24-21 to Cleveland St. Ignatius. That appearance came seven years after Centerville became the first Dayton-area Division I team to reach the state final four.

“His players absolutely loved him,” Tarpey said, “and maybe that was his hallmark. His players loved him, and they played hard for him. He was very demanding. He was always about toughness and hard work.”

Gregg laid the foundation for a program that has made the playoffs 13 times in the 21 seasons since his retirement after the 1999 season.

“Tough to give it up, but we all have to do it sometime,” Gregg said then. “I’ve got a lot of good men behind me who’ll do a good job.”

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Josh Kneidl, a 2000 Centerville graduate who played linebacker, called Gregg a “larger-than-life guy” in football and in life.

“Walking into the weight room, he was just a huge figure,” Kneidl said. “Wherever you went, you kind of knew he was there. For him, it was all about self discipline, teaching people how to do things and then giving them accountability to make sure they did it. You couldn’t walk in the weight room and say, ‘Oh, I’m tired,’ or whatever. Wherever you were, you were expected to get after it. He set that tone.”

Jack Sperry, a 1980 Centerville graduate who played offensive guard and linebacker, remembers Gregg speaking at the Dayton Convention Center at a ceremony honoring him after his retirement. Sperry said Gregg mentioned only one player by name in his speech — not one of his famous players like Herbstreit, A.J. Hawk or Mike Nugent — but Richard Topper, a fourth-string wide receiver who Sperry said never caught a pass in his career.

“Rich was a friend of mine,” Sperry said, “and what coach said about him was that he exemplified Centerville High School football — not because of his greatness on the field, but because he never missed a workout, never missed a practice and gave 110 percent all the time, knowing that he would probably never step on the field. That, to me, spoke volumes about coach Gregg. He was able to get a guy like Rich Topper to commit wholly to the program and to what my recollection were grueling practices.”

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