One of the icons of the high school football coaching fraternity, especially at Lancaster, has decided to walk away.
Len Jankiewicz announced his resignation over the weekend, saying he had arrived at the difficult decision privately. The longtime mentor had been the face of Lancaster football since replacing Joe Foyle in 1986. They are the only two head coaches Lancaster has had since 1961.
Jankiewicz adds his name to a growing list of prominent coaches in the area who have made unexpected exits from the varsity coaching ranks including Eric Jantzi of North Tonawanda, Frank Payne of Iroquois, Bruce Lakso of Lackawanna and Steve Griffin of Maryvale.
The move was a stunner for those who believed his retirement as the school's Athletic Director in 2010 would allow him to devote even more time to his passion of coaching. But Jankiewicz worked like a man being chased. His tireless efforts to bring the Redskin experience to each player he ever coached, weren't so tireless.
"The time is right for me, however at the same time I will always regret leaving such a tremendous district that has been so incredibly supportive of our program, coaches and me personally," he said. "Believe me, I've gained much more from our athletes and our staff coaches than they have from me. This place is special."
A successor has not been named, but the district will begin the search immediately.
Jankiewicz said he will remain in football and coaching in some way, but in the short term he will tend to family needs.
Jankiewicz's absence on the Lancaster sideline will be difficult to digest. His name has been synonymous with the program since he joined Foyle's coaching staff as an assistant in 1974. He's a 1969 graduate, lettering twice in football and baseball. He's been part of the Lancaster football program for 37 years.
His teachings over the years go way beyond the basics of playing the game. Jankiewicz oozed humility in an ego-driven sport. He leaves behind a reputation of being authentic, intensely loyal and generous with his time. When it comes to what he's done for Lancaster athletes, not all heroes wear capes.
"He's the common denominator for everything over there. Ouch," said Gary Slachetka, an All-WNY linebacker for the Redskins in 1977. "Everyone really loves Len. It's tough to replace those icons. No one behind him is going to come up and be what he was."
Jankiewicz, 59, did far more than coach the Redskins to a 143-93-2 record in 26 seasons with nine appearances at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
As an ambassador for Section VI, he touching the lives of thousands through his organization of the Western New York Amateur Football Alliance-sponsored Junior Combine at Ralph Wilson Stadium and College Recruiting Night, both events uniting together college scouts and WNY players and their parents.
Locally, Jankiewicz is a charter member and officer of the Western New York Football Coaches Association, Section VI Class AA Co-Chairman and the second Vice President of the Western New York Amateur Football Alliance.
If there's one message Jankiewicz hopes his players take with them after their playing days it's: "Hopefully our players leave with a sense of gratitude for the football opportunities they were given, the life lessons they gained and more importantly the lasting memories and relationships that they'll have forever," he said.