Derry football coach Vince Skillings shares story of his addiction, despair to inspire others

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Saturday, July 24, 2021 | 1:23 PM


He didn’t plan it, but Vince Skillings literally saw the light in the darkest of dark times.

On a summer night in 1997, he was close to ending it all.

“I bottomed out,” Skillings said. “I was smoked out on crack and drunk for a week. I had blown my second marriage. I was feeling like the biggest loser of all time.

“I was going to kill myself.”

About two decades before he would become the head football coach at Derry and lead his alma mater into the 2021 season, Skillings’ wild ride of a football career — and destructive brush with fame — nearly came to a tragic conclusion.

“I hooked a hose up to my car window,” the second-year coach said. “I was going to do it. I blacked out. When I came to, paramedics were working on me, and I was arguing with my brother. It was a wake-up call.”

The former Ohio State defensive back who played in the Canadian Football League for the Montreal Alouettes after he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the sixth round in 1981 was treated and came home. He checked into rehab.

But he hadn’t learned his lesson — not quite yet.

A year later, he was sitting at his computer in his Derry apartment, again in a blurred state of disconnect from the world.

It was June 9, 2001, he remembers specifically. The date is a permanent time stamp.

“I was trashed again,” he said. “I was filthy and hadn’t showered for days. I stunk. I was playing dominoes on the computer, and I kept falling off my chair. I hit the floor and passed out. When I opened my eyes, all I saw was the lights from my church across the street from my window. They usually weren’t on that late at night, but some people had stayed over for choir practice.”

The final domino had fallen — for the final time. Just then he stumbled onto a moment of clarity.

“I was scared,” he said. “It was so dark. It was like I was floating through the universe. But then it became clear: God was calling me back to church.”

Skillings, then 42, went to the church that night and prayed because, “God gave me an ultimatum. The glory of God had blessed me. I had a decision to make. If I continued to be an addict and live in sin, I knew what I faced.”

From that point on, he vowed to stay clean, preach the word of God and do his part to make the world a better place.

He had exorcised the demons of drug addiction and earned a new set of downs.

“I had contentment and joy come over me,” he said. “God spoke to me and said this is what I want for you.”

Now Skillings, 62, is an ordained elder at New Creation Family Worship Center in Greensburg. He also works as a security guard at Torrance State Hospital.

He has been preaching for about 20 years at schools and prisons, to youth groups and teams.

He might not have a degree in counseling, but he has experience from living that life and shares it.

“I was meant to be a preacher since the seventh grade,” he said. “I am supposed to point people in the right direction. I teach my players to love and respect each other. Morality, respect and discipline. Young minds go through issues, and they need guidance.”

Skillings talks openly and candidly about his sordid past in the hopes it might help someone else who is caught under the boot of decadence and excess.

“I chased the girls and partied. I did all that,” he said. “But I lost focus on what was happening around me.”

His impressionable players have heard his stories, and some aim to heed his advice.

Derry senior quarterback Zack Revoir said the players listen when their coach talks.

“No matter what obstacles we are faced with,” Revoir said, “none are impossible to overcome. That is what coach has taught us.”

Skillings turned to coaching in 2001, starting as middle school coach and varsity assistant at Ligonier Valley.

He was an assistant at Edinboro and Cal (Pa.) around the time he headed for rehab.

He moved back to Columbus, Ohio, in 2004 and served as an assistant at Westerville South for four years.

In 2008, he moved to Florida for his job as an equipment operator and coached at West Oaks Academy in Orlando.

A fracking job brought him back to Derry before he began working at Torrance.

He coached eight seasons at United before a full-circle move back to Derry, where he accepted his first head coaching gig last summer.

Skillings wonders what could have been but appreciates what is.

“To think I might have had a national championship or Super Bowl rings,” Skillings said. “That hurts. That is a big regret.”

Pete Carroll, who later coached the New England Patriots and won a national title at USC before joining the Seattle Seahawks, was a defensive backs coach at Ohio State when Skillings played there, and the two have kept in touch.

“He supported me,” Skillings said. “When he mentioned me coaching with him, I was so out of it and didn’t realize the opportunity in front of me. Who knows? He may have taken me with him (to the NFL).”

Or maybe Skillings could have taken Carroll to church.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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