Rich Lowe stood and pondered the analogy that was presented to him by a reporter. If former Sweet Home Panthers football coach John Faller was Bill Belichick, does that make Lowe Bill Parcells?
Lowe thought for a moment, then answered in the affirmative.
“Sure, I’d agree with that comparison,” Lowe said. “With John’s experience, he’s a little more cool, calm and collected. I’m a little more emotional and intense. But with that sort of experience comes the ability to stay calm under pressure.”
The two NFL coaching legends – Parcells a Hall of Fame member, Belichick a future inductee – are certainly comparable to both Faller and Lowe. Faller, who coached the Panthers for 30 years, had an unflappable demeanor on the sidelines – like Belichick – and was the leader of a very successful team.
Lowe? Like the two-time Super Bowl champion Parcells, he wears his heart on his sleeve, and then some.
“I’m pretty sure that coach Lowe has more intensity than any coach in Western New York,” former Panthers running back and current UB Bull Dylan McDuffie said. “He’s definitely like Parcells because he’s intense in everything he does. It’s crazy.
“He’d hop into practice drills with us and get physical with us – while we’re wearing pads – and he has no equipment on. I’d bet no one else does that, he’s that kind of guy. He’s more intense than anyone else I know.”
Lowe started to build that enduring trademark of his at an early age, when he first fell in love with the game. Yet at first, Lowe wasn’t even sure if he wanted to play football in the first place.
“The first time I ever tried out to play little league football when I was seven, I got cut,” Lowe said. “I wasn’t going to go back the next year, but my cousin convinced me to go back and work with me. I always wonder how different my life would be if it wasn’t for the game.”
After playing for Sam Giancola at the now-defunct LaSalle Senior High School – and acquiring his other love, teaching kids, from him – Lowe was recruited to play at the University at Buffalo by former Bills linebacker and future NFL coach Jim Haslett. After his four-year playing career as a starting offensive lineman ended, he then took on a role as a graduate assistant as a fifth-year senior.
“My time at UB was a great experience,” Lowe said. “Being able to coach at that level helped me, more so than anything, to learn how to scout future opponents, evaluate your own team and how to make tape breakdowns. It was invaluable.”
Lowe credits then-Bulls offensive coordinator and current Depew head coach and athletic director Brian Wilson as his biggest influence.
“Pretty much everything that I do, in terms of being an offensive line coach, is almost entirely modeled after him,” Lowe said. “I’ve coached all three of his kids – both of his boys and his daughter in track – and we’re still great friends today. He’s a great coach and a great man.”
Following graduation, Lowe became a physical education instructor at Glendale Elementary and took a job coaching offensive linemen under Faller. For four years (1998-02), Lowe learned under the future Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame inductee and soaked in his experiences like a sponge.
“There’s so much that I’ve taken from coach Faller and put to use that it’s hard to pinpoint any one thing,” Lowe said. “90 percent of what we’re doing right now as a program is still modeled after what he did here. We’ve tweaked a few things here and there, but as you know, you always have to change with the times. I learned a great deal from him in terms of relationships with kids and X’s and O’s.”
Yet Lowe yearned to run a program of his own. Following the 2002 season, Lowe sat down with Faller and discussed his future – leading to him becoming the head coach of the junior varsity squad in 2003.
Looking back, Lowe said it was the best decision he could have made for his career.
“Initially during my first four years on varsity, I was just a position coach. It was a great experience being up on varsity, but it was a very limited role,” Lowe said. “When coach Faller moved me down to J.V., I was able to experience so much more. Organizing practices, running a team. Scouting. Game planning more. The move down to that level was what prepared me for this, because I was able to run a team with the intensity and with the attention to detail that I felt most varsity coaches do.”
After a 14-year run at the junior varsity level which saw Lowe accomplish much success, he was tabbed as Faller’s successor in 2017. Taking over for a legend within the high school coaching community, Lowe certainly had his hands full. Not only was he replacing a man who had won over 200 games and a pair of state championships, he was also charged with revitalizing a historically strong program that had fallen on hard times – a team that had won just a pair of games in each of the two prior seasons.
Lowe then took a step back, analyzed the situation and realized that he didn’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel. All he needed to do was tweak a few things.
“We decided to change our strength and conditioning program, and I took a few ideas from a coach in Florida named Rick Darlington,” Lowe said. “We’ve set up our lifting now where we have an Olympic lift day – cleans, pulls and deadlifts – we have a power day and a speed and agility day.
“So that program has immediately shifted gears, and it’s been a big help for us. We had about 20 guys in the weight room every day during the summer, and we’d like to have double that amount in the summer of 2018. But it’s a good starting point to build upon.”
The changes paid immediate dividends. In 2017, the Panthers went 5-2 (4-2 Class A) and reached the postseason for their first playoff berth since 2014.
Losing to eventual state champion West Seneca West in the first round of the Section VI playoffs did nothing to dampen the program’s spirits, however. Lowe believed that his core philosophies regarding how to play the game had spread throughout the team.
“Our long-term goal for this program is to have kids who love and respect the game and what it’s about, respect our school and compete for a sectional title every year,” Lowe said. “State championships would be fantastic, but we’re not thinking at that level just yet because I’ve seen so many of the issues that come from always trying to win at all costs.”
When pressed on what issues he was referring to, Lowe revealed that character was what he looked for primarily from his players, and that everyone should be treated the same, regardless of their status on the depth chart.
“I’d rather play the right kids if it means losing a game and not going as far, because we want to play with integrity,” Lowe said. “We had to let go of a few kids that would have certainly made us a better team on the field, but life lessons had to be learned.
“For the kids that are still with us, what would I be teaching them if I expected one thing from these guys, and then let something else slide? You can’t have that. Everyone has to be treated fairly.”
Following last season, Lowe decided to step down as head coach and let longtime right-hand man Jeremy Zimmer take over for the foreseeable future. He will stay on as defensive coordinator and is now a phys-ed teacher at the high school, but his beliefs have altered his roster’s mindset in a positive way, and has Sweet Home convinced that better days are on the horizon.
“Coach Lowe definitely helped us become a tougher and more versatile team,” former quarterback Joseph Torrillo said. “We had close to about 30 guys on our team that were trying different positions because if someone goes down, they have to be able to step up and be ready for any situation. The conditioning we do is pretty hard, so he prepares us really well through that to get our minds right if someone needs to step up and make a play at some point.
“His intensity and his ability to get guys to do the right thing is so obvious. He’s all in, and I think he and Coach Zimmer are doing and will continue to do a great job in bringing this program back to where it needs to be.”