They say the best teams are like a family. In the case of Penn’s sprint football team it couldn’t be closer to the truth.
Head coach Jerry McConnell and his son, offensive line coach Frank McConnell, have been coaching in the sprint football program for a combined 19 years.
“It is a pretty special thing being able to come to practice and work with my dad every day,” Frank McConnell said.
Most of the combined 19 years are from Jerry McConnell, who has been with the program since 2007 when he was named the offensive coordinator. He took over as head coach after the 2019 season with the retirement of long-time coach Bill Wagner, who was the one that brought on Frank McConnell as the offensive line coach during the 2019 season.
Prior to coming on board, Frank McConnell played offensive line for four years at Sacred Heart and served as a graduate assistant from 2015-2017. His dad, Jerry McConnell, had a big influence on his decision to start coaching.
“It is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and he has certainly been a big part of that,” Frank McConnell said.
After leaving Sacred Heart, he knew exactly where he wanted to go next.
“He’s been coaching here for 15 years,” Frank McConnell said about his dad. “So when I moved home from Connecticut, it was easy. Thankfully, Coach Wags brought me on board and it’s been great.”
Jerry McConnell added he was thankful for the opportunity to work alongside his son, especially because his coaching career had often gotten in the way of being able to see his son play.
"I didn’t see much of his high school career," Jerry McConnell said. "I didn’t see much of his college career, and to be able to share this together with him is truly special."
One might think that coaching with your father or son would be difficult, especially considering the tough decisions and stress involved in running a football team, but for the McConnells they have kept to a philosophy that has made the dynamic work.
Jerry McConnell aims to treat all of his staff the same, and the expectations for his son are the same as they are for anybody else.
“Obviously I have known him my whole life, so sometimes the conversations can be a little bit candid and direct,” Frank said. “But the one thing that it always ends up being, is we both want what’s best for us or for our team. If he wants us to do something, we do it. He’s the head coach.”
The effective dynamic between the two is noticed by players as well.
“They both have this beautiful commitment to the game and they come to work everyday, so I really respect that," sophomore offensive lineman Alex Schrier said.
Frank McConnell, along with his siblings, is continuing the family tradition of coaching started by his father. His brother Tim McConnell is a special teams quality control coach at the University of Memphis, and his sister Katie McConnell is the head coach of women’s lacrosse at Lafayette.
“I’m very proud of my children," the elder McConnell said. "Katie was at one point the youngest women's Division I lacrosse coach. Timmy is grinding it down in Memphis. I am very happy with their choices.
“My fourth daughter Jeannie, she’s a coach in her own way. She’s got four children. She is coaching, too, but in a different way.”
Frank McConnell was around Penn’s sprint football team even before he became a coach, recalling numerous memories of coming to practice with his father when he was younger, including running through drills with the older players.
While Frank McConnell certainly has continued to look to his father for guidance during his coaching career, his players have begun to see him as a role model and someone they hope to emulate in the future.
"He’s probably the best lineman coach I have had, to be honest," Schrier said. "He knows when to trust us. He has a lot of faith in us. His commitment to the game and how much he loves it, you can really see that as something to look up to.”
Jerry McConnell has also taken note of his son's unique ability to connect with his players, something he has a great amount of pride in.
“You look at it and see how the kids gravitate to him and the uniqueness of the bond they’re forming. It’s neat.”