Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan
St. Pius X head coach Paul Standard, right, and Buford defensive coordinator Dicky May have been close friends since they began coaching together at Dacula in the 1990s. They coached their sons' travel baseball and youth football teams together for years, but they haven't coached against each other since becoming great friends. That will change Friday in the Georgia Dome when Buford plays St. Pius X for the Class AAA state championship.
What: Class AAA state championship game, Buford vs. St. Pius
When: Friday, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Georgia Dome
Dicky May and Paul Standard figured out pretty early in their high school football coaching careers, which span a combined 58 years now, that they share similar beliefs.
The veteran coaches are both intense competitors with a common joy for watching young people improve, something they discovered as assistant coaches at Dacula in the late 1990s. Their philosophies also crossed over into youth sports as they coached their sons, Michael May and P.G. Standard, for years on the same youth baseball and football teams.
"I remember coaching together with the minor league (9- and 10-year-old) Yankees and Paul coached them like they were the New York Yankees," May said. "He was born to coach. He's as competitive of a person as I've ever been around. When P.G. and Michael were 10 or 11, I remember working on the (baseball) field for an hour just to get ready for practice. It doesn't matter what age, he coaches with the same intensity."
Standard said he isn't alone in that regard.
"Don't let him fool you, he was pretty intense (in youth sports), too," Standard said. "We had a great time in those days. When I think of those days, it brings a smile to my face. It was a blast."
Unfortunately for the two close friends, only one will be smiling on Friday night.
May is the defensive coordinator for Buford, which takes on St. Pius, where Standard is the head coach, in the Class AAA state championship football game at the Georgia Dome. To make it more interesting, Standard runs the St. Pius offense.
"I love (May) dearly, so I don't relish being across the field from him this weekend," Standard said. "But that's part of this business. I know when the game's over, no matter the result, our friendship will remain strong. That won't change."
Their friendship is even deeper than some professional relationships.
As most high school football coaches do, they put in long hours at Dacula. That in itself creates a special bond among high school coaches.
The bond got even stronger, though, thanks to their children's youth sports. The practices, the road trips, the team parties.
Their time together was cut shorter when Michael and P.G. were in high school, but the two sons ended up playing football at LaGrange College. That meant the Standards and the Mays were tailgating buddies for the past four college seasons.
"He and I have gotten really close over the years," May said. "We don't see each other as much as we'd like during the week, but we stay in touch. Thursday is big for both of us. We generally like to talk to each other on Thursdays."
May has enjoyed the updates from his good friend, who has returned St. Pius to its glory days as a football power. Standard, who played for the Golden Lions himself under legendary coach George Maloof, has led the Catholic school to 10 playoff appearances in his 12 seasons there.
Standard's best chance at a state championship comes Friday in St. Pius' first football title game appearance since it won its only title in 1968.
"We've spent so much time together and the man loves ball, he loves to work with kids and he loves to see them get better," May said of Standard. "That's why he's so successful and he's been so successful there. He treats his kids right. He's hard on them, but he loves them. I think that's why they're playing so hard for him now."
While a state title ring would be a rare treat for Standard, it would be another in the jewelry display for May, a 1978 Central Gwinnett grad. He coaches for a perennial powerhouse that wins state championships in bulk.
The Wolves have won four state championships since May was hired in 2005.
"Doesn't he have enough rings? How many does he need?" Standard joked. "Dicky's a great coach. He's intense. His kids love to play for him. His kids always play with great emotion and great desire. His kids are as well-coached as any teams around. I consider Dicky one of the best defensive coordinators in our state."
Standard also considers May one of his best friends in the world. That doubles the oddness of the head-to-head, finals matchup.
Both coaches want to win, so a loss would be extremely disappointing. At the same time, the loser will know the result was rewarding for a good friend.
"I'm happy for him to get where he's at, but we're fighting for the same thing," May said. "We'll remain great friends no matter what happens. But for that 48 minutes, it's going to be a war."