The new head football coach at Merrimack College doesn’t need a map of the campus. When Dan Curran’s professional playing days ended in 2009, he accepted a position as the Warriors’ offensive line coach, even though he’d made his bones at Chelmsford High, the University of New Hampshire, and the Arena Football League, and in flirtations with NFL teams as a tailback/fullback.
The last two seasons, Curran served as the offensive coordinator on coach John Perry’s staff; last fall, he directed an attack that averaged 399.2 yards passing per game. Wideout Isaiah Voegeli was the Northeast-10 Conference MVP and Newburyport’s Joe Clancy, in his first season at the starting quarterback, was the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year.
When Perry resigned recently to take a position as passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Division 1 Delaware, he knew who he wanted to take over. Perry had been an assistant at UNH when Curran ran for over 1,000 yards and scored 16 touchdowns in his senior year. The hard-running 6-foot, 225-pound Curran romped 25 yards for the winning touchdown against Connecticut. As a junior he rolled up 180 yards in a grueling win over Maine.
“It was smash-mouth football, my kind of game,” he said.
When he joined the Merrimack staff, “every year John gave me a little more opportunity to grow,” said Curran.
Curran “is a great motivator,” said Clancy, a fifth-year quarterback. “He brings out the best in everybody. I’m very happy. You don’t meet too many people with that kind of football IQ. He’s already done great things for the program.”
The foundation for a strong program is attracting dedicated student-athletes.
“It goes a littler slower recruiting in Division 2 because a lot of kids think they’re going to Division 1,” he said. “But I’m excited about it. We have 17 kids committed, the most we’ve had at this time” of year.
His first recruiting class includes Westford Academy wide receiver Justin Mount and linebacker Nick Antenucci (Pingree School).
Born and raised in Chelmsford, Curran is the youngest of five siblings. Three brothers, Tom (52), Tim (50), and Sean (45), played hockey and went to Villanova. His sister, Kate (39), was captain of the soccer and track teams at Worcester State University.
In Curran's three varsity seasons, Chelmsford High won the Merrimack Valley Conference title each time, including Super Bowl wins against Brookline and Woburn. Curran ran for 27 TDs and over 1,600 yards his senior year. He was the Globe’s Division 1 Player of the Year.
A nonleague loss to Xaverian was memorable because the opposing quarterback was Tim Hasselbeck. When Curran signed with the Seattle Seahawks, he became friendly with Tim’s brother, Matt, the team’s starting QB.
Curran had over 20 Division 1 offers, but most of the schools wanted to move him to defense. New Hampshire gave him the opportunity to play tailback.
His mother, Kathleen, was hoping he’d go to Villanova like his brothers had.
“She was heartbroken, but she realized it was my decision,” said Curran.
His recruiter at New Hampshire? Chip Kelly, the Wildcats’ offensive coordinator, who later moved on to Oregon, turning the Ducks into a national power.
“He had chances to leave New Hampshire long before he took the Oregon job,” said Curran of Kelly, entering his first season as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Curran had brief stays with the Seahawks and New Orleans Saints, but never got into a regular season game. He found his niche in the Arena Football League, particularly with the New Orleans Voodoo. The team played in the New Orleans Arena, home of the NBA Hornets.
“We drew 18,000, 20,000. We were a hotter ticket than the Hornets,” said Curran.
He also suited up for the Nashville Kats and Georgia Force, who were aligned with the NFL Titans and Falcons, respectively. With the Force (2000-2003), he won a rushing title. He turned down offers from the Canadian Football League because the Arena League started to pay better.
A neck injury ended his career in 2009. He has an injury suit pending, resulting from his stint with the Seahawks.
In the late stages of his playing career, Curran turned his focus to his mother, who was diagnosed with lung cancer.
“She never smoked a day in her life,” he said of Kathleen Curran, who died in 2005. A basketball star at Tewksbury High, she is a member of the school's athletic hall of fame.
“She was an unbelievable role model for me,” said Curran. “For my life.”
Kathleen had been a single parent for a long time. “My father [Thomas] died when I was 8,” said Curran. He was helping out at a Tyngsborough youth hockey league tryout. “He had a heart attack on the ice, right in front of my eyes,” said Curran.
Curran and his wife, Megan, have two children, Ty, 8, and Kaley, 3. Dan and Megan were two years apart at Chelmsford High. She has made all the football stops with her husband.
“I wasn’t a big football fan,” she said. “But I see the passion the coaches and players put into it. I respect that. I think Dan's going to be wonderful as a head coach. He lives and breathes football.”
After a national search, Merrimack only had to look over its shoulder to get its new coach. “We’re all excited,” said Clancy, who is returning for his final season under center this fall.
The coach is pretty revved up, too.