Dave Griffin left an impression.
The first impression you’d get watching him coach from the sidelines was of a bear of a man growling instructions with a voice that boomed throughout the gym.
“I was definitely intimidated at first,” confessed former player Evan Sirkey.
But it didn’t take long for Sirkey and so many others who were fortunate to play for or otherwise know Dave Griffin to realize that the intensity with which he coached reflected a passion much deeper: He cared.
Griffin, the long-time assistant basketball coach at Quince Orchard High School and youth basketball coach in Montgomery County, died last week after a two-year battle with cancer.
“Griff,” as most people called him, “believed he had a moral responsibility to teach kids through coaching,” his obituary said, and basketball coaching became his calling.
He became an assistant to QO basketball coach Paul Foringer in 2001 and also coached middle school teams in the I-270 league, including many boys who would play at QO.
“He was more than an assistant coach to me,” said Foringer. “He was my friend. He was an amazing guy—selfless, always there for others, made you feel special, a competitor in every way, hated weakness, loved hardworking kids.”
“The unique thing about Griff was how much he cared,” said former player Alex Griffith. “Yes, he cared about winning and losing, but he cared about us as people. He treated us as if we were his sons, getting to know each of us off the court and our personal lives. … He was a part of each of our families.”
“Griff has been a constant presence in my life,” said Colin Crews, a senior on this year’s QO team that made it to the state finals, and who first played for Griff as a 7th grader. “I was lucky enough to know Griff as a coach and as a mentor, but also as a family friend.”
“Dave is one of my longest, closest, best friends and a brother in every sense of the word,” said Steve Feldman, a QO parent who met Griff at 14 and remained lifelong friends with him. “He was caring, warm and loving. Dave was a ‘giver.’ He gave of himself, all in, whether you were his friend or one of his basketball players, he always gave fully and from the heart.”
Griff had a knack for teaching basketball and motivating teenage boys.
Former player Ben Kelly appreciates Griffin’s “commitment to the process. … All he really cared about was consistency and improvement over time.”
“Everything I know about basketball today I owe to Coach Griff,” said Sirkey, who now coaches and administers youth basketball programs. “I use the same drills and teachings when I’m coaching. He helped shape our lives, he was a big part of it. … He taught us life lessons, and he used basketball as an example.”
Griffin knew when a boy needed extra attention. Daniel Dorsey, a rising senior on this year’s QO team, said, “As a 7th grade kid going through a lot of personal family issues Coach Griff helped me use basketball as an escape from all my problems. He was a mentor and father figure as well as a coach.”
He also loved underdogs. “He gave me a chance,” said Griffith, who realized that he did not have the talent of some of his classmates when he was cut from his middle school team. “He taught me how to get better. … And yeah, I improved as a basketball player because of that, but I also improved as a person.”
And so it was poignant that Griffin’s greatest group of underdogs achieved their greatest on-court successes in this, his final year. QO’s basketball team composed largely of boys that Griffin had coached since middle school advanced through the regional playoffs, upset undefeated and top-ranked Wise in the state semifinal, and lost the state final by three points in overtime to Perry Hall.
Griffin, by then too ill to attend the tournament, watched on streaming media. “I waited 16 years for us to get to this point, and of course, I can’t be there,” Griffin told The Washington Post.” He gave the players final pregame instructions over Facetime, telling them simply, “I love you guys. I’m proud of you. Go win it.”
“Griff, he was the one who believed in us when we didn’t even believe in ourselves,” said Crews. “I think that’s what pushed us to accomplish what we did this season.”
“They really played for him because they felt like this could be his last hurrah on this earth,” Foringer told the Post.
“Basketball, it allows you to touch people in a certain way,” said Griffin to the Post. “I think I’ve done that with a lot of guys I’ve coached. And this team this year … Man, what they did touched me to my core.”
Griffin touched them, too.
“I will always carry Coach Griffin in my heart,” said Crews.
“I’ve given Coach countless gross sweaty hugs over the years,” said Griffith, “both happy and sad. I’d give anything to give him one more.”
A celebration of Griff’s life will be held at Union Jack’s in Gaithersburg on Saturday, July 8 from 1:30 to 5 p.m. To assist in planning, an Evite has been created for the event. Please contact Denise Feldman at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive the invitation.
Town Courier staff member Mac Kennedy and intern Johnny Fierstein, both of whom played basketball for Coach Griffin, contributed to this article.