Watching his beloved Redskins blow yet another one in Tampa Bay pretty much ruined Rich Gilgallon’s Sunday afternoon. But Gilgallon didn’t have much time to brood about the Skins’ third loss in as many weeks. Come game’s end, he had to get to work.
Not all that long ago, Gilgallon’s work entailed putting on the guise of “The Coach” for local radio outlets. His Skinscentric banter on sports radio station WTEM-AM (“The Team”) garnered Gilgallon a cheery reputation among the burgundy-and-gold faithful. For a stretch, he was the most celebrated Skins fan in the area, and he never failed to impart just how much he was relishing the role of head cheerleader. And why not? Among the entitlements of his WTEM tenure: A golf tournament bearing Gilgallon’s name was held at a Rockville country club; a racehorse was named after him; he became John Riggins’ confidant; and an intern at the station accepted his marriage proposal.
But just as the Redskins’ fortunes have fallen, so too have Gilgallon’s. Late last year, the Team dumped its loudest, most distinguishable voice every bit as unceremoniously as when the Redskins let Art Monk go. With the Redskins (and the Team) in a downward spiral, there wasn’t a lot of need for a guy cheering his head off and waving the pom-poms. Which is why, just moments after watching former Redskin Martin Mayhew intercept Gus Frerotte’s pass in the end zone to seal the Skins’ sorry fate, Gilgallon unstuck himself from the living room La-Z-Boy and headed from his Rockville home into D.C. to his current—and decidedly less glamorous—occupation: backing the bar at Chadwicks in Friendship Heights.
“I needed a few bucks,” Gilgallon says, with more than a trace of lament. “Believe me, I looked everywhere for work [in radio]. For six months, I knocked on every door. I let everybody know I needed work. Nobody was calling. I heard Chadwicks had an opening. I took it.”
Gilgallon already knew his away around a pub. After moving to Washington in 1980, the Framingham, Mass., native and lifelong Redskins rooter began honing his Coach persona while bartending in saloons all over town. And it was during a previous stint at Chadwicks, in fact, that Gilgallon’s outsize voice and outspoken nature helped land him his first on-air gig.
“A guy from WMZQ was in my bar, and I overheard they were looking for a guy to do sports,” recalls Gilgallon. “I told him I could do it.”
Though he’d never done radio, Gilgallon convinced the country kingpins to give him a tryout. That audition led to a six-year run at the station, doling out sports news and previewing and reviewing Skins games. His effervescence and shameless boosting caught the ears of Colfax, a Minneapolis-based partnership that launched WTEM, the area’s first all-sports station in May 1992. WTEM’s brass quickly shook up the D.C. sports scene by snaring the right to broadcast Redskins games from longtime holder WMAL. Gilgallon was among the first on-air hires.
When WTEM hit the airwaves, the Redskins’ popularity couldn’t have been higher. The team was coming off a victory in its fourth Super Bowl appearance in nine years under Joe Gibbs. In that context, the station’s decision to let Gilgallon spew his unabashed homerisms at afternoon audiences made perfect sense.
But since the station’s start-up, things have not gone well for the Redskins or the Team. The station has been to Arbitron what the Redskins have been to the NFC East. WTEM’s consistently piss-poor ratings sparked a never-ending series of shake-ups at the station, not the least of which was the divestiture of the Redskins broadcast rights after three years. Without the Skins, the jettisoning of the Coach was sure to follow. Last December, it did.
WJFK, which subsequently obtained the radio rights and now broadcasts Skins games, brought along play-by-play man Frank Herzog and partners Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff. The station didn’t offer Gilgallon a spot on its Redskins team, however. Neither did anybody else.
“That’s the tough thing about being marketed as a “crazed Redskins fan,’ ” says Rick “Doc” Walker, the ex-Redskin whose afternoon show on WTEM now fills the time slot Gilgallon once did. “You can get niched.”
Gilgallon, now 41, admits having not much interest in reverting to Just Plain Rich, or in accepting that his career as a professional Redskins rooter is facing fourth and long.
“This has been a very, very tough period for me. Absolutely,” he says. “I’ve never been unemployed like this before, not in my whole life. I’m absolutely dying, absolutely suffocating. I’ve got so many things to say, and nobody to say them to.”
Nobody, that is, except for bar regulars, and people who recognize Gilgallon from his cheerleading days and engage him on the street.
Walker, for one, thinks Gilgallon’s shtick will again become marketable if and when the Redskins regain their stranglehold on the local consciousness. It makes sense that while praying for a radio station to expedite his exit from the service industry, Gilgallon continues to cheer on his favorite football team in hopes that more success might create a bull market for boosters.
“I’m going to keep on following the Redskins and, sure, I want them to win!” he barks. “I mean, I still want a job like the one I had. I’m hungry! I’m available! Some station has to come to its senses! I can’t believe nobody wants to hear what the Coach has to say!”
For now, anybody wanting to hear what the Coach has to say can find him behind the bar at Chadwicks four nights a week, including football Sundays.