For 28 years, Craig Peters was Naugatuck High School football.
He did it all—he won league titles, state titles, awards, top rankings, and led the Greyhounds to the best seasons in school history. Simply, Peters is one of the greatest coaches in the history of Connecticut high school football.
Since retiring after the 2000 season, Peters has quietly stayed away—mostly—from the game he seemingly had perfected for decades.
“On a scale from one to 10, I’m probably involved about point-five,” Peters says. “Not even that much. I went to four games so far this year in Connecticut.”
If Peters is at a point-five, then most other people in the once-football-crazy Valley must be a negative-two. Peters still loves and longs for football.
“I miss the daily contact with the kids, the daily preparation on the field,” Peters says. “I miss the competition. I do miss football.”
Peters still finds ways to quench his thirst for football.
“I have a vacation home in Vermont,” Peters says. “Recently, we went to the Vermont state championships at Castleton State College. It just so happened that one of the teams that we watched ran the wing-T, which is one of the offenses I ran at Naugatuck.”
Peters, now in his mid-60s, might not be involved in local high school football on a regular basis, but his everlasting coaching mind can still tell the differences between today’s version of the sport and the style he practiced during his tenure in the Valley.
“I think the teams don’t work on fundamentals enough and defense enough,” Peters says. “Those are the two things we always stressed. Offense is fun to coach and fun to do, but you can’t coach that area at the expense of fundamentals, defense, and the kicking game.”
Naugatuck football was at its height during Peters’ tenure, which began in 1973. He led the Greyhounds to eight Naugatuck Valley League championships—three in the 1970s, four in the ‘80s, and his last title in 1993—and made Naugy a state contender again.
Naugy won the NVL title in Peters’ first season as a head coach. The Greyhounds also won league championships in 1975 and 1979 and also finished No. 8 in the 1977 state poll, which was Peters’ first year-end ranked squad.
The ‘Hounds won their first state title in 1981 with a 28-6 win over Xavier in the Class L-II championship. That season remains the best season in school history, as Naugy finished 11-0 and was ranked No. 1 in both Connecticut and New England. The Greyhounds were also named the 1981 Walter Camp Connecticut Team of the Year.
In 1982, Naugy won the NVL championship again but lost to New Canaan, 20-12, in the Class L-II championship. The ‘Hounds finished 9-2 and were No. 8 in the final state poll. Peters earned the New Haven Football Foundation Coach of the Year award after that season.
Naugatuck won two more league titles in 1985 and 1988 before winning both the NVL and Class LL state championships in 1993. The Greyhounds demolished Manchester, 34-13, to finish 10-1 and No. 5 in the final poll.
Peters’ final year-end ranked team came in 1994 when Naugy finished 9-1, losing its only game to Ansonia in one of the greatest Thanksgiving games of all-time. The ‘Hounds were fifth at the end of the season.
After his retirement, partly due to a bout with multiple sclerosis, Peters was honored as the 2001 Connecticut High School Coaches Association Co-Coach of the Year and was inducted to the Naugatuck Hall of Fame in 2002.
Peters still has the eighth-most wins in state history, with a 213-75-2 record over 28 seasons for a winning percentage of .738.
Peters still gets out to the occasional game. He will sometimes see Naugatuck, the place where he crafted his legend, and Woodland, where his former player Tim Shea now coaches.
Shea, who took his first coaching job in the Valley as part of Peters’ staff in the late 1990s, recalls what it was like to play for Peters.
“He was a very intense individual,” says Shea, a 1992 Naugatuck grad. “He knew the whole game. He could spout off stuff from the top of his head about any situation. We were prepared every week. Some weeks were harder than others. He had a presence about him.”
Peters says Shea always stood out among the rest of the players.
“Tim was one of the hardest workers that I had in the offseason,” Peters says. “This was in the days well before offseason programs. He used to work very, very hard on his own. When you call a kid a hard worker, I think he went well behind that. He was talented and big and he played a lot of positions for us. A lot of kids will play one position or two positions, but he had more of a full understanding of the game because he practiced quarterback.”
Since Shea became Woodland’s head coach in 2008, he has kept his old coach at the top of his list of resources.
“Whenever I have a question I think he can help me out on, I’m not afraid to ask him,” Shea says. “After he goes to our games, I usually get a phone call or a question about why I called something or what he liked. He’s a wealth of knowledge.”
Shea occasionally invites Peters to practice. That alone brings a different feeling to the field.
“Even when he comes to practice now, [Woodland assistant coach and former Peters player Adam] Schultz and I will stand a little straighter when our coach is around,” Shea says.
Peters appreciates Shea’s effort to keep him involved.
“I feel honored that he values my opinion,” Peters says. “I have gone to a practice or two to watch their kids. He just runs by me general things and philosophies, or maybe a philosophy behind a certain play. It’s fun for me. That’s part of the game I always enjoy.”
Rob Plasky, a 1989 Naugatuck grad, succeeded Peters and has won two NVL titles in his 10 full seasons. Plasky associates Peters with perfection.
“You knew when you played for Coach Peters that you had to have a workmanship mentality,” Plasky says. “He demanded discipline, he demanded repetition, he demanded perfection. In one practice, we could have run one play 500 times until we got it perfect. He was all about hard work.”
Peters says Plasky fit in with that mentality.
“He was very competitive,” Peters says. “He was a very hard worker.”
While Plasky has not specifically used his former coach for help since taking over in 2001, there are plenty of things he values that were instilled by Peters.
“One of the things I love about him and that I took, is preparation for a game,” Plasky says. “Scouting and breaking down film for the kids, he was great at that and I took that. The only reason teams will beat us is because they’re better than us.”
Plasky won the 2001 NVL championship and helped Naugatuck back to the state playoffs for the first time in eight years. He says there was some pressure to maintain the success that Peters enjoyed for nearly three decades.
“I played for Naugatuck and I know the tradition of a winning program,” Plasky says. “The pressure was to make sure that this program didn’t lose any tradition as in how we were prepared and how we act on the field. And of course, to keep the winning there.”
Even though that championship-winning team was filled with seniors who played for Peters, the coach says he had no part in that title.
“At the time, I was doing what was in the best interest of myself to get a handle on my MS,” says Peters, who now has the illness under control. “I didn’t feel a part of that at all.”
Even though Peters’ most memorable moments happened decades ago, the coach still can recall his favorite Thanksgiving games with ease. The 1981 game, a crucial part of the best season in program history and Peters’ first win over Ansonia, sticks out first.
“The year we beat Ansonia to go to the state playoffs in ’81, the score of the game was 24-20, and they had a great passing game,” Peters says. “We had a kid named Jim Einik intercept three passes in that game.
“The following year we beat them, 7-6, on a last-minute score,” Peters says. “I think we had to go 80 yards to do it with under two minutes in the game. I was watching the film later on, and people were making a mass exodus going to their cars. On the film, you could see people turning around and running back in.”
Sure enough, a check of the record books shows Peters was spot-on with every detail of his descriptions.
Peters also recalled former assistant coach Bob Harrison, who coached all 28 years with Peters, as a crucial part of the program’s success.
“For all the years that I was there, he was with me, too,” Peters says. “We used to stress that we may not be playing the toughest team this week, but we can’t give away these opportunities on the practice field to get better. That was my approach to it. He had the same philosophy as me. It was very easy. I knew it wasn’t doing it alone.”
The legendary coach doesn’t point to his eight league championships, two state titles, or multiple awards as the definition of his legacy. Instead, he prides himself upon a more intangible impact.
“I just think back of how hard we worked and got better as a football team from day one until the end,” Peters says. “We never overlooked an opponent. We worked hard and came up with good game plans. The kids were dedicated. I would hope that the kids who I coached would take that with them after football. If you work hard, no matter what happens, you’re going to succeed in the end.”
This feature appears in the Citizen’s News’ special 2011 Thanksgiving football section. Photos were provided by the Naugatuck Football Alumni Association.