TribLive HSSN ranks the top 7 coaches in WPIAL history — No. 1
By: George Guido
Friday, October 12, 2018 | 8:57 PM
Did you ever wonder how you would rank the top high school football players and coaches in WPIAL history?
So did the staff at the TribLive High School Sports Network.
Trib HSSN will rank the top 7 high school football coaches and players in WPIAL history by position based on their performance during their scholastic careers.
We will announce the players in reverse order each day, starting Saturday. The top player will be released each Friday morning.
We encourage you to tell us through social media if you agree, or if we have missed the mark with our rankings.
There are no perfect rankings, but it’s something to discuss and debate each week.
Have fun with them and hopefully your — or your father’s — favorite player or coach made the lists.
Here’s a look at the Trib 7 all-time great coaches:
No. 1 — Jim Render, Carrollton (Ohio), Uniontown, Upper St. Clair
Render became the first WPIAL coach to attain 400 victories when the Panthers defeated Peters Township on Aug. 31.
He is one of only 23 coaches nationwide to reach the 400 plateau.
Render hasn’t stopped winning, either. His record is 405-139-6. Upper St. Clair also has earned its 36th WPIAL playoff berth in the last 37 seasons, missing only the 1999 postseason.
Render’s teams have made 11 WPIAL title games, winning five — 1988, ’89, 92, ’97 and 2006.
His teams lost WPIAL title games in 1991, ’93-’95, 2003 and ’11 in overtime against North Allegheny.
The Panthers have won 22 conference titles, including 10 straight in one stretch. In 1997, USC broke Kiski Area’s WPIAL mark of 44 consecutive regular-season conference victories.
For many years under the old classification format, Upper St. Clair was among the smallest Class 4A schools.
The Dover, Ohio, native began his coaching climb as an assistant at East Liverpool, Ohio, before being on coach Bobby Bowden’s staff at West Virginia for one season.
His first head coaching job was at Carrollton, Ohio, where he won his first game Sept. 11, 1970, against East Palestine, 12-7.
After two seasons at Carrollton, Render was at Uniontown for seven seasons before coming to Upper St. Clair.
He guided the Red Raiders to playoff berths in 1974 and ’75 when only conference winners made the WPIAL playoffs.
USC has also won two PIAA titles during Render’s tenure.
No. 2 — Bob Palko, West Allegheny
The all-time leader in WPIAL titles with eight, the current season is Palko’s farewell tour as he announced that 2018 will be his final season.
A 1978 West Allegheny grad, he began his coaching career as an assistant at Jeannette and Seton La Salle before returning to his alma mater in 1995. At that time, the school had made the WPIAL playoffs only once (1993) since it opened its doors in 1949.
West Allegheny went 9-11 in Palko’s first two seasons, but the big breakthrough came in 1997 when the Indians made the Class 3A playoffs and won the title 51-24 over Brownsville.
West Allegheny has made the playoffs 21 of the last 22 seasons, missing only in 2008.
With his son, Tyler, at quarterback, the Indians won three consecutive WPIAL titles from 1999-2001, including the final season at Three Rivers Stadium in 2000 and the first at Heinz Field the following season.
The 2001 season also provided the school’s only PIAA title, with West Allegheny knocking off Strath-Haven, 28-13, in Tyler Palko’s final game.
West Allegheny was back on top in 2009, defeating Hopewell, 36-28. Palko’s Indians won back-to-back titles in 2012-13 before winning the first Class 5A title in 2016 over McKeesport in overtime.
West Allegheny has had 11 double-digit victory seasons under Palko and has already qualified for this year’s postseason.
Palko’s all-time record is 213-71.
Former Western Beaver standout Kim Niedbala will take over the reins from Palko in 2019.
No. 3 — Chuck Klausing, Braddock
During Braddock’s run of six consecutive WPIAL titles, a friend gave Klausing a Notre Dame cap with the letters N D on the front.
But for Klausing, the N D stood for No Defeats.
That what Klausing had at Braddock, as he made the Tigers into a nationally-recognized program with a 54-0-1 record from 1954-59.
His first coaching job was at the former Pitcairn High School before heading to Braddock.
During that era, any WPIAL school that lost or tied a game in that classification was ineligible for the WPIAL title. In other words, every game was like a playoff game, a loss would end title hopes.
Klausing’s first Braddock team tied Midland, 7-7, for the WPIAL title, so both were declared co-champs.
In 1955, Braddock was the only undefeated Class A team in the WPIAL and was declared the champion.
In 1956, the Tigers pounded Carmichaels, 38-0, at Charleroi Stadium.
Braddock posted another shutout in the 1957 title game, 14-0 over Glassport.
The Tigers barely survived a test from rival North Braddock Scott, 9-6, in the 1958 regular season finale then went on to defeat Waynesburg, 21-0, at Washington High School stadium.
Kalusing’s best coaching job might have been 1959. With the town suffering economically from the four-month steelworkers strike and a number of injuries, Braddock kept the streak going.
Sports Illustrated came to town to do a four-page spread a week before the Tigers set the national record with 52 straight games without a defeat.
Braddock defeated North Braddock Scott, 15-12, with 37 seconds left on a 97-yard drive engineered by quarterback Johnny Jacobs.
A sixth straight WPIAL title followed with a 25-7 win in a rematch over Waynesburg.
Klausing left three months later to become an assistant at Rutgers.
He coached at IUP and Carnegie Mellon on the collegiate level, compiling a 123-26-2 record.
Klausing died Feb. 15, 2018, at age 92.
No. 4 — Phil Bridenbaugh, New Castle
Bridenbaugh coached football at New Castle for 34 years and finished as one of the most successful coaches in WPIAL history.
His tenure ran from 1922-55, with an overall record of 265-64-25, including seven WPIAL championships that once made New Castle the winningest team in league history until Jeannette took over the No. 1 spot in 2017.
Of his victories, 174 were shutouts. He never lost a championship game.
It didn’t take long for Bridenbaugh to produce an undefeated team. During his first season in 1922, New Castle went 8-0-1, with the tie coming against Beaver Falls.
In Season 2, New Castle went 10-0 and made the WPIAL playoff semifinals, tying Turtle Creek, 14-14. Washington beat Pittsburgh Allegheny, 60-0, in the other semi, and Wash High was declared champion.
In Season 3, New Castle was 8-1, but Jeannette used an ineligible player and the game was converted to a New Castle win and a berth in the WPIAL title game. New Castle won the first of seven titles under Bridenbaugh, 10-6, over Charleroi.
The school proceeded to win three straight titles from 1932-34 and defeated Aliquippa for WPIAL honors in 1942, 25-0. In 1948, New Castle defeated Monongahela, 43-14, for Bridenbaugh’s sixth title. The final championship season for Bridenbaugh came in 1949 with a title game win over McKeesport.
Bridenbaugh is one of only three coaches to win seven or more WPIAL football championships and is seventh on the WPIAL’s all-time win list.
All told, Bridenbaugh’s teams had 11 undefeated regular seasons.
The Franklin & Marshall College graduate died May 13, 1990, six weeks after turning 100.
No. 5 — George Novak, Steel Valley, Woodland Hills
Novak is one of only three WPIAL coaches to collect more than 300 victories.
Over a 40-year high school coaching career, he garnered six WPIAL championships before retiring after the 2016 season.
A standout athlete at the former Munhall High School, Novak played football at Georgia Tech before starting his storied coaching career.
His first 10 seasons as a head coach were spent at Steel Valley, where he compiled a 67-32-3 record and a 1982 WPIAL Class 3A title game victory over Aliquippa.
Novak inaugurated the Woodland Hills program in 1987 after the school district was formed via a court order consolidating eight former high schools.
Of Novak’s 306 career victories, the most historic might have come on Sept. 5, 1987, the first game in Woodland Hills’ history. Novak’s Wolverines traveled to North Allegheny and stunned the well-established Tigers, 17-6.
His record at Woodland Hills was a remarkable 239-107 in 30 seasons, capturing WPIAL titles in 1996, ’99, 2001, ’02 and ’09.
The 2001 title game against Penn Hills at Heinz Field was viewed by 38,000-plus fans, a WPIAL attendance record to date.
Eleven Woodland Hills players have performed in the NFL and Adam Walker of Steel Valley, who played for the 49ers, made 12.
Novak’s last 21 teams at Woodland Hills made the WPIAL playoffs.
His coaching career ended with a loss to West Allegheny in the 2016 WPIAL semifinals, giving him a final record of 306-139-3.
No. 6 — Bill Cherpak, Thomas Jefferson
Cherpak’s career has known nothing but playoff teams.
Cherpak has been coach of the Thomas Jefferson football program for 24 years. His team clinched a 24th consecutive WPIAL playoff berth with a win over Laurel Highlands on Friday.
The Jaguars and Aliquippa share the playoff streak record.
Cherpak’s career record is 254-44. He is in 10th place on the WPIAL’s all-time coaching victory list, two behind Pete Antimarino.
Cherpak’s teams have won seven WPIAL titles, with the latest coming last season. It was the second time his teams won three straight WPIAL titles.
His teams have won 20 conference titles, and the Jaguars once had a 13-year streak of making at least the WPIAL semifinals (1998-2010). TJ has been to the semis 19 of 20 years, losing only a quarterfinal to Knoch in 2011.
Cherpak’s Jaguars have had 15 10-win seasons and went 16-0 in 2007.
A Steel Valley graduate, Cherpak played under legendary coach George Novak before heading to Pitt from 1985-89.
He was an assistant several years at Thomas Jefferson and was an assistant to Novak at Woodland Hills in 1994 before returning as TJ’s head coach in ’95.
Under Cherpak’s reign, Thomas Jefferson once reeled off 58 consecutive home wins, a streak dating from Oct. 8, 2004 to Oct. 31, 2014.
He was Associated Press Pennsylvania Class AAA Coach of the Year in 2004 and was inducted into the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame Western Pennsylvania Chapter in 2017.
No. 7 — Joe Hamilton, Midland, New Brighton, Hempfield, Blackhawk
Regarded as one of the coaching profession’s true gentlemen, Hamilton is second in all-time WPIAL coaching victories with a 324-170-11 record in 48 seasons — 39 with Blackhawk.
The Beaver graduate entered the coaching ranks at his alma mater in 1963.
Hamilton got his first head coaching job at Midland three years later and went 12-5-2 over two seasons. He moved on to New Brighton where he led the Lions to the 1969 WPIAL finals, losing to Pine-Richland. Hamilton’s record at New Brighton over seven seasons was 46-18-1.
After a lone season at Hempfield, going 4-4-1, he returned to the Beaver Valley to take over the program at Blackhawk. In just his third season with the Cougars, he took the team to the WPIAL title game, losing to Penn Hills, 7-0, at Pitt Stadium.
Hamilton guided Blackhawk to winning seasons from 1984 to ’98, compiling a 142-33-4 record during that span. His teams won three WPIAL titles during the ’90s, including three straight from 1991-93.
His Cougars also were WPIAL runners-up four times. He led teams to the finals in five different decades — the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2000s.
Hamilton also had three PIAA finalists on his resume.
He has been inducted into the Beaver County, Western Pennsylvania Sports and Pennsylvania State Football Coaches Association halls of fame and is a former president of the PSFCA.
Hamilton has a stellar reputation throughout the WPIAL and state. He retired from coaching after the 2014 season.
George Guido is a freelance writer.