Salamanca’s Lee, Furlong face off as assistant coaches in NCAA playoff game
In 1979, they shared a high school field as teammates, Mike Furlong a sophomore, Pete Lee a senior for the Salamanca Warriors. But for more than two decades, they've either coached together or, mostly, against each other at the college level in Southern Pennsylvania.
This Saturday (12 p.m.), the friendly coaching rivalry takes on more importance in the NCAA Division II football playoffs. West Chester University (8-3), seeded fifth and PSAC (Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference) West champions with Furlong as its defensive coordinator, visits No. 4 seed Shippensburg (10-1), where Lee is an assistant coach for the offensive line and kickers.
West Chester, which lost the PSAC championship 24-7 last week, handed Shippensburg its only loss, 37-27 in October. Matchups between Lee and Furlong’s schools are a constant in the PSAC since Lee arrived at Shippensburg in 1997 after working at West Chester with Furlong.
“His dad was very involved in youth sports, so our families have known each other for as long as I can remember,” Lee recalled of his friendship with Furlong. “We worked together for five years at West Chester, so we generally talk during the season and compare notes on the teams we're playing and have played, except when we're going to play.”
Salamanca native Mike Furlong is in his 25th year as defensive coordinator at West Chester University, which opens the NCAA Div. II playoffs Saturday at Shippensburg, Pa. (West Chester University photo)
Mike Furlong, brother for Allegany-Limestone high school coach Paul, played at Salamanca from 1979-81, starting with Lee's senior year. Lee, who played at SHS from 1977-79, played offensive line and graduated from Cornell. Furlong graduated from Canisius College, where he played wide receiver.
“We probably knew each other as kids,” Furlong said. “Everybody knows everybody in Salamanca, so that's how it works. And then after he got out of Cornell, I got out of college at Canisius, I was working at Salamanca, just got hired at Cuba (as a PE teacher) and he was back in town working.
“We got to be buddies just hanging around town and then we both kind of decided to pursue the college football thing and he actually helped me get down here, he was on staff here for maybe six months or so and gave me a call. They had an opening and I interviewed for a job and got hired. Been here ever since.”
Now, both Salamanca natives stand as the longest-tenured football coaches at their schools, Lee in his 21st year at Shippensburg and Furlong in his 28th at West Chester (25th as DC). Lee’s Shippensburg tenure includes a stint as offensive coordinator (2006-10) and also coaching tight ends.
Coach Pete Lee with daughters Megan and Erin, and wife Susan — August 2016. (Shippensburg University photo)
“They're a good program and they've been good for quite a while,” Furlong said of Shippensburg. “The consistency that you see because they're good coaches, they recruit good kids, they understand how to prepare and how to win and you've got to do things the right way every week against them. It's a good thing for Pete and I, we get our competitiveness going and want to go against each other. It's been a good rivalry.”
After two decades coaching against his friend’s defenses, Lee knows what to expect each year.
“We know that they're going to be aggressive, we know that they're going to try to take away your best stuff,” Lee said. “They have been guys that tend to be smarter than the other guys we play — I don't know if that sounds good for the other guys that might see this — but they adapt well, they play with a great deal of confidence and ability.”
Both Lee and Furlong cite their high school experiences as influencing their career choices.
“All of us that played for George (Whitcher), he taught us the value of work ethic, the love for the game,” Lee said. “I think personally the fun that he and Bob Nugent had together coaching is a big reason that I wanted to get into this. And of course, winning was crazy important and is crazy important. We were able to do that at that time, and football's hard to give up when it's that ingrained into your life.”
Furlong saw the success of Salamanca natives like Brad Weitzel in baseball and Joel Quattrone in football, and decided to pursue college coaching.
“Initially I thought I was just going to be a PE teacher and a coach,” he said. “I went to Cuba and I did it there for a few years and that was great. I had some guys I knew I grew up with that got into college coaching and I said, 'Hey, I can do this too,' and it led to a pretty good lifestyle for me for for the last 25, 30 years.”