Bob Beatty and Greg Toal have never met. They are, however, somewhat familiar with each other's football programs.
Beatty has built a traditional power at Trinity (Louisville, Ky.)
, while Toal commands brawny Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.)
The two coaches also have much in common. They care deeply and are committed to their student-athletes. They run classy programs that seek out the nation's best competition. They are also in charge of two of the top three teams in the country — Toal's Don Bosco, currently ranked No. 1 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Football Rankings
, and followed at No. 3 by Beatty's Trinity. The only team interfering between Don Bosco and Trinity being 1-2 is No. 2-rated Armwood (Seffner, Fla.).
That's about where things end between Don Bosco and Trinity.
There are glaring differences between how Beatty views things, and what Toal's opinion is when it comes to national rankings.
Back on Sept. 13, 2008, after watching St. Xavier High School (Cincinnati) beat nationally rated Don Bosco by a 17-10 score, Beatty was quoted in the
as saying, "The rankings and things like that, that stuff is poison ... You try to teach kids that you can't believe everything you read. No disrespect to Don Bosco, but I'll play them today with no game plan. I'm not saying that to sound cocky; I'm saying that with confidence. … I read and heard so much about Don Bosco Prep, and then I saw them in real life."
Beatty is not crazy about national rankings. Toal, though not wholly a supporter either, does feel that in today's high school football world, the current system is the best out there.
It's not exactly a war of words. Call it a philosophical clash.
Beatty does want to get one point across in blaring trumpets: "Quite honestly, there's no disrespect intended to Don Bosco by it, none at all; but to me, ratings have absolutely no relevance," said Beatty, whose team moved to 3-0 with a 17-7 victory over then-No. 17 St. Xavier last weekend. "I'm a concrete sequential guy. There's no order to national ratings.
"Who is saying this and what governing body is determining these rankings? Who are we ranked by? That's the key. If we're ranked No. 1 in the state of Kentucky at the end of the year, that's relevance. That's all we can control and all the relevance that we can control. Other than that, it's essentially no control over any of it."
Beatty remembers everything about the quote and what stirred this little pot. He and his staff traveled to see Bosco play Xavier. Bosco was nationally ranked No. 20 at the time, and Xavier won.
"I look back at it, I don't regret saying it. I was more upset at myself," Beatty recalled. "I have the utmost respect for Don Bosco's program and their staff. I did then, too. We went up to see Cincy X and I think I was a victim of looking at those rankings through my years as a high school football coach. Cincy X beat Bosco that year, and Bosco is a very good football team. Someone asked me at that time what I thought, and I believed at that time Bosco was nationally ranked. I fell victim to that. I felt we were every bit as competitive as Bosco, and Cincy X at that the time. That's where that came from.
"When I saw them in real life, I thought our football team could compete with these people. If they were ranked that high, their next opponent must be the Green Bay Packers. That's my point. In high school sports, I'm not sure if you have that gauge at the NCAA level. And trust me, those people may not know exactly what they're doing, either. They have the BCS, and at the end of the year, you have all this confusion. What does that do? It has people buying newspapers and going on the internet and talking about it. You have this more so at the high school level that nobody sees everyone. Who is making those rankings?"
So Beatty doesn't speak to his team about national rankings. He doesn't discourage his team from checking out national high school websites that do have rankings. He's just a firm believer in what can be proved on the field. Beatty cited an example years back of going to scout Montgomery Bell Academy (Nashville, Tenn.) — nationally ranked Montgomery Bell, coached by Jeff Rutledge. The Big Red was playing Byrnes High School (Duncan, S.C.).
"We finished 15-0 in 2002, and I loved our team and our kids that year, and I think we finished something like fourth in the country," Beatty recalled. "The next season, I went down to see Byrnes play Montgomery Bell, and Byrnes waylaid them. I remember it was my first time seeing a team from Duncan, South Carolina play, and I'm sitting next to my quarterback's father, Brian Brohm's dad, and he says to me, ‘My God, whatever you do, don't put them on the schedule.' That Byrnes team in 2003 would have smoked our 2002 team. If we finished fourth in the country in '02, Byrnes should been scheduling Alabama. I loved our 2002 team. But that's what I mean about relevance."
Toal believes in relevance, too. But his view of national rankings are a little different than Beatty's. Toal, too, admits he doesn't pay a lot of attention to national rankings, with teams like Manatee High School (Bradenton, Fla.) on the schedule. The Ironmen came back to beat Manatee, 22-16, and maintained their top spot.
"Everyone has their opinion and that's coach Beatty's opinion. Tell him to leave Kentucky and play other teams out of state, like Florida," Toal said. "It's really not a big deal. He's entitled to have his opinion, but unless you have a national championship game, I'm sure there are enough qualified people that get out there to see these teams and watch them compete. The ideal thing would be to have a playoff, but I don't know how that would work. The best system we have are these national ratings.
"The best we have is what the writers see between ESPN, USA Today and MaxPreps. It's what they see, and they have people all over the country. I think they try to do a legitimate job. I realize nothing is perfect. We won the national championship in 2009, when Manatee beat St. Thomas Aquinas to give us the national championship. The key, I think, is to step out and try and play the top-ranked teams. You tell me Trinity does play out of state, and they play teams like St. Xavier, you have to respect that. We respect them as much as I hope they respect us. But in my opinion, this is the best [system] we have [to rate teams]. We have to leave things up to the writers. It's not in my control or coach Beatty's control. The system has been around for a long time, unless someone comes up with something better."
For now, Beatty, who admittedly isn't a social media or message-board guy, has advice for those that like to rant and rave about "those national rankings." What does he tell them?
"Simple, don't pay attention to them," Beatty said. "If it gives people jobs, and it's honest work, I'm all for it. But otherwise, for all the people I hear yelling about rankings, there's an easy way to handle it — don't read them. That's what I teach our kids. My blood pressure rises enough just getting them in shape. It's an inexact science."
Then Beatty paused for a second, and laughed in relaying another interesting rankings tale. Beatty was told the Shamrocks aren't rated by a local ranking system, because they have yet to play a team from Kentucky, yet are 3-0 and nationally ranked among the Top 5 in the country.
"There's the relevance again. In that poll, whoever we face, we're going to be an underdog because we aren't even in that poll's Top 20 there," Beatty said, laughing. "For now, we have a lot of great teams and players to face on our schedule. My focus is going to be put into stopping them."