Larry Dolan doesn’t recall exactly when he first encountered Lance Mancuso, but he figures it was sometime around 1995, when he was starting his coaching career as an assistant at Forrest County AHS and Mancuso was on the staff at Lumberton High.
Since then the two men have become best of friends, almost like brothers.
Indeed, for Dolan, who is an only child, Mancuso is one of two men – Aggie defensive coordinator Brad Hankins is the other – who he considers a brother.
There are a couple of obvious differences between Dolan and Mancuso. Dolan’s ancestry is Irish to the core; Mancuso is as Italian as it gets. Mancuso keeps a clean-shaved head and face; Dolan has a full head of hair and a goatee.
But they have even more in common, notably a glittering won-loss record. And, this year, they are both coaching their teams in state championship games.
Dolan has FCAHS in the state finals for the first time in school history, while Mancuso is in Jackson for the third time as coach at Bassfield and the fourth time for his career.
“We’re a lot alike in our offensive mindsets,” said Dolan. “Offensively, we’ve stolen things from each other.”
From Mancuso’s point of view the biggest thing the two men have in common is passion.
“I think it’s our passion for the kids,” said Mancuso. “And we’re both real passionate about what we do. We’re both trying to make a difference in kids’ lives.”
Friends and rivals
For the past few seasons, Mancuso and Dolan have done what brothers often do. They fight.
Not literally, of course, but on the field.
Since 2005, the two friends have matched their coaching skills against the other every season except one. The two started playing when Mancuso was at Poplarville, and in 2009, the two continued their friendly rivalry after Mancuso was at Bassfield.
“Both of us were talking, knocking it around a bit,” said Mancuso. “We felt like it would be good for both communities. We’re not that far away, we’re both competitive and we felt like there would be good gates at both places.”
Dolan won all three meetings when Mancuso was at Poplarville, but the Yellowjackets own a 3-2 lead in the FCAHS-Bassfield series.
Until this year’s meeting, won by Bassfield 42-29, the series had been remarkably even. Each team won twice and the combined scores were 68-68.
“It’s good competition,” said Dolan. “Both teams bring a good crowd, the kids play hard, and the games are always clean and hard-fought. It’s a good positive environment for football.”
Winning breeds winning
Today, Dolan and Mancuso stand at the pinnacle of their profession.
Mancuso is 77-13 in six seasons at Bassfield, and he’s turned the Yellowjackets into a small-school juggernaut, with victories this season over two larger schools that will be playing for state titles in their own right.
Dolan, now in his 14th season at Brooklyn, owns a record of 112-51. However, since 2005, when the Aggies’ run of nine consecutive playoff appearances in Class 4A began, his teams are 88-23, a winning percentage of 79.3.
For Dolan, the only thing left to make his career complete is to win a championship with his team. For Mancuso, it’s to see his team play to its potential and bring another trophy to his town.
Two coaches, two friends, one mission.
Contact Stan Caldwell at (601) 584-3137.