Robert Tankard is calling it quits af­ter eight years as head coach of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School football team.
News of his resignation, following a 27-14 loss to Nantucket Saturday, came as a shock to his players, football fans and the high school athletic de­partment.
“I’ve been thinking about it for quite awhile. My wife knew about it and so did my coaches,” Mr. Tankard told the Gazette Sunday. “It has noth­ing to do with our record this season or the game Saturday. I’m very proud of our team and how well we performed despite the problems we faced.”
In his seasons as head coach and stalwart of the Vineyard football program, Mr. Tankard, or Coach T as he is widely known, compiled near a .500 record.
“After the game I went home, had a discussion with my wife, made my peace with God and came to my deci­sion,” Mr. Tankard said. “The years on the field here have been great, but I think it’s time to take some time off for awhile.”
Mr. Tankard, a physical education instructor at the Tisbury School, said he did not make his pending resigna­tion known to the team before the Nantucket game to avoid what he called the Gipper factor.
“If they won the game I wanted them to do it for themselves, not for the coach,” he said. “I didn’t want them to take that extra pressure into the game.”
Coming off a 3-6 season with a team whose injury list was at times nearly as long as its roster, Mr. Tankard said the Vineyard program needs an infusion of new perspective.
Mr. Tankard was highly regarded throughout the local football commu­nity for motivating his athletes toward personal goals off the field as well as on.
“I need a year or so to regroup, and I think the program does too,” Mr. Tankard said. “I’m taking some courses in administration and I need to concentrate on that now.”
Mr. Tankard began his coaching tenure at the high school as a volunteer in 1975. In 1976 he was hired as a junior varsity coach and by the following season was promoted to assistant var­sity coach. He took over the top post in 1979.
Vineyard schools superintendent Francis E. Pachico, the football coach throughout the 1960s, credited Mr. Tankard with sustaining the spirit of the program.
“He did a great job in getting the kids out there to play,” Mr. Pachico said. “He did a lot for the program.”
Nantucket head coach Vito Capizzo called the resignation a severe blow to the Vineyard football program.
“They’re going to have a difficult time replacing him,” Mr. Capizzo said. “It’s a shame. I liked to play against his teams; he was a good coach.”
The decision to step down will not mark the end of Mr. Tankard’s involvement with high school athletics. He said he hopes to be asked to play a part in naming his successor.
“I’ll never walk away from it com­pletely,” Mr. Tankard said. “It means to much to me, but right now I’m not sure how I will make a contribution.”
Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School athletic director Anne Carmi­chael Lemenager said the search for a new coach will begin next spring when the school advertises to fill all its open coaching positions.
Teachers at the high school will have the first opportunity to apply for the post, Mrs. Lemenager said.
Mr. Tankard said whoever inherits the Vineyard football team next season will take over a pool of young talent possibly unmatched in his years with the team.
“Before they even step on the field they’ll have a contender on their hands,” Mr. Tankard said.
In a 1985 interview with the Gazette, Mr. Tankard explained his coaching philosophy: “I realized my purpose in athletics wasn’t to play professional ball, but to help people develop a pur­pose in their life, a desire. What can you contribute to your society? How can you contribute? How can you be an example? How can you help a per­son who is down and out? Are you will­ing to help someone? These are the things that I feel are important.”