Last December, just days after Walpole High School football celebrated its seventh Super Bowl win, its head coach was arrested. Danny Villa stood accused of raping a 15-year-old student. The town was rocked, and the kids who played for the man were dumbfounded and mortified.
While parents, teachers, and administrators tackled the task of igniting the healing process, someone had to put the program back together. So they hired the guy who knew Walpole football better than anyone, a 61-year-old named Barry Greener.
"Barry’s been a superb coach and teacher for 35 years," lauds Jim Erker, the school’s athletic director at the time of the hire. "He’s respected by his peers, players and coaches. He’s someone who could maintain the best of Rebel traditions while leading us forward."
You see, this guy is pretty traditional himself. He can be found at church with the family on Sundays, teaching middle school gym Monday through Friday, and on the Rebel sidelines fall Saturdays. It’s essentially been the routine since 1972, when he first came on as an assistant with the team. He’s been as much a fixture as the goalposts, supporting three head coaches and all seven title winners.
"This guy has been around forever," cites Washington Redskins quarterback and former Rebel Todd Collins. "At one point or another, he coached every position on the field."
Greener remains humble.
"You know the only thing true in life?" Greener asks. "We’re all replaceable. Every one of us. But I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it."
Greener had opportunities to replace a head coach or two in the past but preferred to spend the extra time with the wife and children. This time, however, the family had grown, and he realized he could be the steadying force desperately needed.
"With Billy O’Connell, my associate head coach and offensive coordinator, we applied as a team," Greener explains. "That’s the way we viewed it. We were just hoping on keeping the job inside.
"If they chose Billy, it would have been a tremendous choice. I would have been elated. And he was elated for me."
On paper, the inherited team was a mess. Walpole was graduating a ridiculous 37 seniors, including every starting offensive lineman and the entire secondary. The starting quarterback was transferring to prep school.
Still, Greener liked what he saw from the group off the field, a collection of kids that could pick up the pieces from December’s madness.
"It’s long gone," he says. "The [players] did it on their own. I’ve never addressed the situation directly. They’re just good kids. They bounced back. They’re resilient."
Walpole enters this weekend undefeated. In addition to the player’s maturity, Greener credits, ad nauseum, the talents of his assistants. Ask anyone else associated with the program, and they’ll tell you the right man was put in charge to lead them out of the dark.
"He treats the kids with respect," Collins says. "He takes a personal interest in them because he sees the big picture. There’s more to life than just football."