BY TERRELL LESTER
Editor at Large
Call it destiny. Call it kismet. Call it providence.
By any other name, Phil Angieri’s career choice surely was preordained.
There might have been other choices. Life is full of choices.
But for Phil Angieri, there was but one choice. One singular, clear-cut choice.
He was going to be a coach.
It has turned out to be a transformative decision.
Phil Angieri is a football lifer.
More than 75 percent of his life has been spent coaching high school football.
He recently finished his 50th full season.
And before that, way back in the decade of the Sixties, there were his All-State playing days at Tulsa Nathan Hale and his foundation-defining years on the Northeastern State University football team.
Now, at the age of 72, he has been a part … a significant part … of some 58 football seasons.
He commands a position of rank within the coaching fraternity of eastern Oklahoma.
He has played for and studied under coaching icons.
He is respected for his immeasurable comprehension of the game of football.
He has guided All-State careers and coached in All-State Games.
He has been head coach, coordinator, position coach, always dependable, always disciplined
He is approachable, convivial, good-natured, a cornerstone of confidence, a mainspring of conviction.
For the last 13 seasons, he has been on the football staff at Sequoyah in Tahlequah, where he also teaches classroom courses in U.S. History and Criminal Justice.
From his home in Broken Arrow, Angieri makes the 60-minute drive daily, deliberately. “I’m a 65-mile-per-hour guy,” he says with a smile.
Still, on the football field, Angieri is pedal-to-the-metal. He is in charge of linebackers for current head coach Shane Richardson
He is the voice, the personification of experience. He pushes players to achieve and exceed. He coaxes and cajoles, demonstrates and dictates.
He is the extension of coaches past. A reminder of a time when discipline was valued, when probity was prized.
He continues to follow the commandments espoused by the coaches of his youth.
There is a palpable sense of passion in Angieri’s voice, in Angieri’s body language, as he discusses football and football coaching.
The sport has been a part of his life since childhood.
The teaching of the sport has defined his adulthood.
“I love the game,” he said recently, sitting in his Broken Arrow home he shares with his wife of 42 years, Joyce.
“I just couldn’t live without football,” he said.
Angieri doesn’t dabble in a lot of hobbies. Football is both avocation and vocation.
Regular visits to a commercial workout center and maintaining the 3½ acres surrounding his home combine to keep Angieri in splendid physical condition.
He looks to be in his prime.
He certainly does not feel the effects, he says, of 50 football seasons, nor even 72 birthdays.
He might credit football and coaching for his longevity.
He was able to live his football dreams. Able to turn those childhood aspirations into adulthood reality.
But before football there was another dream, albeit short and transient.
His father, the son of an Italian immigrant, was a professional prizefighter who called New York City home.
During a 1947 ring appearance in California, his wife, who had accompanied him on the road, gave birth to Phil. In just days after the bout, the Angieris returned to New York.
The elder Angieri, now with a family taking shape, hung up his gloves in favor of a more refined occupation, one with American Airlines.
As the decade of the Fifties dawned, the elder Angieri accepted a move with the company to its new home in Tulsa.
It was there that young Phil was introduced to football, while still being groomed to follow his father into the ring.
Phil learned the mechanics of boxing from his father and honed those skills in gyms and athletic clubs around town.
Football also was showing up on the Angieri radar at that time and the youngster was absorbing and embracing the value of discipline and hard work.
Perhaps due to his father’s influence, young Phil was proving to be a pretty good fighter. He won a pair of tournament championships in his age group.
A year or so into his teens, he was feeling good about himself. Confident. Poised. His father was feeling equally confident.
His father entered him in an open tournament in Jenks. Phil was 14. His first opponent was considerably older, considerably more experienced. Perhaps even tougher.
“He hits me in the head. I lose my mouthpiece, I bite my tongue,” Angieri recalled without a hint of fondness.
“I went down.”
His boxing hopes went down at the same time.
“My mother cussed my dad all the way home. And we hit every stop light,” Angieri said.
“I haven’t pulled gloves on since then.”
Angieri turned his focus toward the Bell Junior High football team.
He would be a natural. Already, he was tough. He was aggressive. He did not, would not shy away from contact.
Plus, there was an additional bonus. His mother liked football.
And his father never missed a practice.
The junior high program was at its peak, producing future all-stars and undefeated seasons. Arriving at Nathan Hale in 1962, Angieri was on track to football stardom.
It began, he said, with the coaching staff, complemented by an array of gifted playing talent.
Head Coach H.J. Green had a staff that included future head coaches Larry Miller and Ron Lancaster and former University of Tulsa standout Max Letterman.
“I’ve never seen athletes like we had there,” Angieri said.
The coaches also were memorable, he added.
“They were the toughest, the meanest coaches in my life,” he said. “They all wanted to be meaner than the others.
“They were also the most disciplined coaches I’ve known. I’d never seen discipline like that.”
Angieri soaked up the entire atmosphere. He earned a starting role as a sophomore, playing linebacker and offensive guard. He listened to his coaches, watched their every move.
“I loved those guys,” he said.
“H.J. Green may have been one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around. He was like God. I never wanted to disappoint him. You never wanted to get in trouble.”
Angieri earned All-State honors in 1964 and played in the 1965 Oil Bowl before accepting a cholarship to Northeastern State from Coach Tracy Norwood.
While playing on four straight conference championship teams at NSU, Angieri began to see that coaching would be his future.
“We had unbelievable talent and great coaches,” he said.
Upon graduation, he landed at Bishop Kelley in 1970 as an assistant on the staff of Coach Chuck Dreas.
Gaining that sideline experience while on Dreas’ staff at Kelley, Angieri was elevated to the top spot in 1973 when Dreas departed.
Angieri was in his mid-20s, but said he considered himself primed for the new level of responsibilities. He had been groomed by some of the best, he said. Additionally, he had been Kelley’s head wrestling coach for two seasons.
He took Kelley to the playoffs in each of his two seasons, but in 1975, he moved on to Broken Arrow, where he had lived since graduating NSU.
“I always wanted to be at Broken Arrow,” he said. “I love Broken Arrow.”
Angieri remained for 22 seasons, the final four as head coach. He left with a record of 24-19, having reached the Class 6A playoffs three times.
His reputation quickly repositioned Angieri in Catoosa in 1998. But he never moved from his home in Broken Arrow.
He held a number of positions in Catoosa, from assistant coach to head coach to director of athletics. He posted a record of 35-25 with three Class 4A playoff trips.
Following the 2004 season, Angieri encountered a crossroads. His love of football, of coaching, was still aflame. But then came an option.
He was offered a position outside coaching. His background as a Military Police Officer in the National Guard and his classroom teachings of criminal justice caught the attention of the prison operator Corrections Corporation of America.
He accepted a posting within the Tulsa County Jail, teaching inmates as they sought to fulfill GED requirements.
He also was given the added assignment of SWAT Team Commander.
“The money was unbelievable. The money was rude. Twice what I ever made in schools,” he said.
Within a few weeks on the job, Angieri found out what the money was all about.
Inmates were rioting within the walls of a company-owned prison in Sayre.
Angieri and his SWAT team were called into action. He was the first to hit the ground.
Joined by the National Guard and other entities, Angieri and his team were able to quell the uprising. Still, Angieri remained on site for weeks.
The time gave Angieri an opportunity to assess his future.
Dealing with a prison riot was not like running 60 football players through two-a-days.
He ultimately determined “I can’t take this.”
He telephoned his wife back in Broken Arrow. “She said, ‘Get yourself home!’”
Forget all that “unbelievable money,” she said. Another football season is approaching.
Angieri wasted little time crafting a letter of resignation to the prison operator.
It was late summer, 2005. And he was without a job.
For football coaches, experienced and respected football coaches, that is not a big concern.
Within days of leaving the field of law enforcement, Angieri answered a call from a friend and mentor.
Bill Scott, Hall of Fame football coach, had just joined his son, Brent, at Sequoyah High School in Tahlequah. Brent, head coach, was filling out his staff. He and his father had Angieri at the top of their combined list.
Angieri and the elder Scott enjoyed a relationship that stretched back years. Long ago, Angieri picked up keys to Scott’s Wing-T offense and initiated several of the techniques that accompanied it.
Signing on at Sequoyah was quick and easy, Angieri said. He returned briefly to the wrestling room as head coach and has been teaching U.S. History and criminal justice while imparting his knowledge of football to a new generation of youngsters.
“Sequoyah is very fortunate to have Coach Angieri as a positive role model while he walks the halls, teaches in the classroom, and walks the sideline on game night,” Sequoyah Superintendent Leroy Qualls said.
Angieri has not lost his thirst for football knowledge. That was ingrained in him more than a half-century ago.
“I’ve been blessed with being around good coaches, good Christian coaches,” Angieri said
“If I had it all to do over again, I’d do the same thing. I love football. I look forward to football season, every football season, and I like the things that we do to get ready for the football season.”
Football and Phil Angieri have been an unbeatable combination for a half-century.