There aren’t many places in the country — maybe Texas and Florida — where high school football is as big a deal as it is in Pennsylvania. The Friday night lights traditionally dominate the landscape in the fall.
Now, Jim Roth, who just led Southern Columbia to its 11th state title and became the state’s all-time winningest coach in the process, is arguably the greatest coach in Pennsylvania prep history.
Not too bad for a former all-star defensive back at Shikellamy High.
Roth was already on the Mount Rushmore of high school football coaches in Pennsylvania before his latest record. That is saying something considering what he inherited when he took over the Tigers’ program in 1984. We all know the story by now, Southern was mired in a losing streak extending over three seasons and there was talk of dropping football for boys soccer.
The school was too small, too rural, to make football work. Fast-forward three and a half decades and perhaps the best small-school, public high school football program in the entire country splits the Northumberland-Columbia county border. Don’t think so? How many other small public school programs could have graduated a class with four Big Ten recruits — including the nation’s top recruit in Julian Fleming — and another Division I recruit and still gone unbeaten and relatively untested the following season with 17 new starters?
Roth will be the first one to tell you he hasn’t done it alone. Four assistant coaches have been with him for more than 25 years each. It’s why Roth was quick to pass credit after the Tigers’ walloped Wilmington, 42-14, on Saturday for their 60th win in a row.
“It’s about the program. They’ll throw those numbers on me, but the most important thing to me is that we’ve won that many games as a program over that many years,” Roth said. “It’s the efforts of many, many people. A lot of my coaches have been with me a long time, and it’s a tribute to them and the players.”
The numbers speak for themselves:
n A PIAA record 11 state titles in 19 state final appearances.
n A win-loss record that is nearly 400 games over .500.
n A string of five state titles in a row (2002-2006) and another, ongoing, run of four (2017-2020).
n Zero losing seasons in 37 years and 16 seasons with one or no losses.
Any one of those datapoints would be ridiculous in its own right. Collectively they tell a story of decades of dominance by Jim Roth, who can now lay claim to being the best football coach in state history. Argue all you want, the numbers speak for themselves.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.