By Jean DePlacido
The late Arthur Adamopoulos instilled a large measure of respect in his Peabody High School football players — along with a healthy dose of fear.
Former players remember the late, great coach fondly and point to his guidance in helping them mature not only as football players, but also as young men.
"We were all scared silly of him when we played for him," said Bob Danish, who captained the 1965 Tanners team and later returned to coach under Adamopoulos in 1973, remaining on his staff as offensive and defensive line coach through his mentor's final season in '81.
"He was a taskmaster whose teams were always tremendously prepared for every game. He was also a firm believer in repetition; we ran plays over and over until they were perfect. We didn't have a lot of them, but the ones we used had to be run right. Blocking, tackling and executing were the basics he stressed all the time."
Adamopoulos didn't feel as though mistakes were part of the game of football, and became upset by what he termed "dumb" penalties. His game plan was simple: control the ball and not let the other team score.
Taking the Tanners' reins in 1961, Adamopoulos held on to them for the next 21 years and went 129-60-6 during that span. He produced winning seasons in each of his last 11 years on the job (16 all told), including a pair of unbeaten clubs in 1969 (9-0-0) and 1976 (9-0-1).
"He had loads of wins," said Danish, "and the truly amazing part is probably close to half of those were shutouts because of his focus on defense. He didn't care about stats, but always took great pride in good defense.
"Arthur was a hard-nosed, old school-style coach and he always produced hard-nosed kids. In those days the coach's word was gold, and nobody questioned him. It was unheard of for parents to approach a coach.
"There's no question Adamopoulos is a legend on the North Shore. He made a lot of boys into men over those 21 seasons."
Coach 'Cafey' — the Greek nickname he had for stubbornness — was a Peabody guy through and through. He grew up in the Leather City, starred on the football field for Peabody High before graduating in 1945 and, after continuing his career at the University of Rhode Island, returned home to coach and teach.
Adamopoulos had an impressive .677 winning percentage, the best mark in school history until one of his former players, Ed Nizwantowski, surpassed that mark in following him as head coach.
"Arthur taught me how to be tough; how to be a winner by working hard and investing in what you do," said Joe Cronin, a fullback/linebacker who graduated from Peabody High in 1964 and returned to coach there from 1970-80.
"Everybody feared him, and he only had to tell you to do something once. He was the best disciplinarian I ever had. He did his homework and his defense was always the best. Offensively we were three yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust like (former Ohio State coach) Woody Hayes; it wasn't complicated, but it worked."
Run, run, run
Buckley Stadium was the place to be in Peabody on Sundays during the 1960s and 1970s when Adamopoulos' teams would take the field.
"The place would always be packed with 5,000 fans. They all wore white shirts and the ladies had dresses on, coming to the game right after church," Cronin remembered. "We were the big attraction back then because there were only four sports: football, basketball, hockey and baseball, with no sports for girls."
There was nothing fancy or tricky about Adamopoulos-coached teams. He ran the ball over 90 percent of the time and once said that three things could happen when you passed the ball — and two of them were bad (i.e., an incomplete pass or an interception).
He witnessed that firsthand at Lowell High during that fabulous 1976 season when the Tanners saw a lead evaporate after an interception was returned for a TD. That resulted in a 6-6 tie in a game that Peabody had totally dominated. That tie was the only blemish during the 1976 season in which the Tanners' first-team defense going unscored upon all season. The only points allowed came on Thanksgiving when the third unit finally gave up a touchdown in a 62-6 romp over Saugus.
"After Lowell we didn't pass again for at least three games," recalled Cronin. "He didn't like to pass anyway, and after that interception it was a while before he tried one again."
No surprise there. Adamopoulos would stick to his bread and butter because it worked so well.
The defensive unit in '76 earned the name "Leather Curtain" and tore through the Greater Boston League anchored by nose tackle Rick Bianco, linebackers Rich LeBlanc and Ed Arsenault and free safety Buddy Yeo. That impenetrable defense had the distinction of being ranked No. 1 in not only Massachusetts, but all of New England.
Peabody Hall of Famer John Goulos was the kicker and starting defensive end as a junior in '76. "He was one of the fairest coaches I ever had; tough but fair," said Goulos, who founded the Blue and White Club to help support the Tanners football program.
"Offensively we had a very simple game plan, but he was a defensive genius. He would immediately analyze what the other team was running and at halftime make adjustments to shut them down. Because he was able to do that, we were able to beat some teams that were better than us.
"He commanded respect, and regardless of whether you were a starter or third stringer if you showed up late or didn't attend class, you weren't playing."
The times, naturally, were much different when Adamopoulos coached. He believed the summers were for his players to enjoy and didn't inundate them with lifting and running programs or insist on captain's practices.
"But come August, he expected you to show up in shape and ready to go," said Goulos. "He was tough and demanded respect for the quarterback, who ran the show. You were scared to say boo in that huddle."
Stop us if you can
Goulos remembers John Kentros telling him the story about the 1969 team being invited to the Orange Bowl in Miami. Penn State was in it, and Adamopoulos was very friendly with head coach Joe Paterno. The Peabody team was even invited to go out on the field.
That talented '69 squad, which played in the old Essex County League, wound up as Class A state champs. That team featuring a devastating ground game along with a classic Adamopoulos defense led by "Pete's Rat Pack," a moniker the coach gave his starting defensive backfield led by Pete Pavenski, twins Steve and Stu Molk, Eddie Bettencour and Mike Potuwa — a unit light in weight but packing a big wallop.
"We were all small but quick and tough," said Steve Molk, now a Peabody police officer. "In high school we were all petrified of (Adamopoulos), but as we got older we realized all the life lessons he taught us made sense.
"We knew all his family; his boys Chuckie and Willie were always at practice running around, and we called his wife "Coach Desi." He remained friends with so many of his players, and one time Kentros, Charlie Silva and I took our three sons up to Prince Edward Island to visit him. He had a great spread overlooking the ocean, and always loved to get away to relax there."
Molk remembers every game starting with the same play called "Right 36F." Teams knew it was coming, but couldn't stop it. Peabody played basic football, but because Adamopoulos-coached teams always executed so well, they were successful.
"He ran a 52 basic defense, but he always made subtle changes," said Danish. "He'd move people over slightly just to take away the hole and stop a team that liked to run there."
Adamopoulos, said Danish, was a master of watching films in an era when coaches didn't do that often, study them to find tendencies and weaknesses of opponents.
"One thing for sure; he never liked to pass," said Danish. "He'd much rather grind it out with 10 to 12-play scoring drives and stop the other team to win 7-0 or 14-0. It was all basic block and tackle with him.
"I caught 30 passes my senior year ('65), but the only reason we threw the ball so much was because Dan Dullea suffered a serious injury and we couldn't run the ball. Jim Nangle was on the other end, and he had great hands."
Former players often returned to the fold to help their former coach, and Adamopoulos always liked to have former players on his staff.
Cronin recalls trying to make suggestions to tweak the game plan and have them rebuffed.
"Mike Ginolfi was coaching Saugus then and he'd play a 9-2 defense against us on Thanksgiving, daring us to pass," recalled Cronin. "All we would have had to do was throw the ball to open things up, but Arthur wouldn't do it. He'd stick to his scheme and make it work."
Larry DiLorenzo, a small, quick running back and defensive back, was a star on the first team Adamopoulos coached back in 1961. He went on to a long coaching career and for many years he guided the Kennedy Junior High football team, sending players on to the high school already solid in the fundamentals of Peabody football.
"Arthur was a good teacher and a good disciplinarian with a good heart," said DiLorenzo. "He knew how to manage players. There's no question Arthur always knew what he wanted and made you work hard. I knew guys in their 50s who were still scared of him.
"One time he and coach Clarky (Paul Kekorian) took us to URI, and we stopped at an all-you-can-eat chicken place on the way back. A lot of us were full after a couple of pieces, and we had a lot wait in the parking lot until they finished.
"Playing for him were the best years of my life, and Art later became a very good friend. My wife (the former Cheryl Tedford, who was a football cheerleader) says he was a teddy bear ... although she didn't think so when he was her biology teacher. He'd drop in — we never knew when he was coming — stay a while and try to convince us to come to Prince Edward Island to visit him. I would have done anything for that man."
There was a big heart underneath that gruff exterior. St. John's Prep football coach Jim O'Leary never forgot the first person to welcome him to Groveland was his new neighbor, Adamopoulos, who trudged through the snow early one Sunday morning for a visit.
Goulos recalls every year after Thanksgiving as the team walked across the field to the locker room, Adamopoulos would tell all the seniors to come see him in the next three weeks.
"He wanted to know where we wanted to go to school," said Goulos. "He'd pick up the phone right in front of you or call admissions if you didn't want to play football — and he knew everybody. He got lots of kids into schools and he never wanted to take any credit.
"In fact, he hated the limelight so much that after our big win over Saugus on Thanksgiving there was a reporter from WEEI in the coaches' office. He pulled Arthur off to the side and stuck a phone right in his face saying they were on the air live, and would ask some questions. Arthur took that phone and hung it up; the guy was stunned."
Family, horses and PEI
Family came first in Adamopoulos' life, especially once he had grandchildren. He also loved his alma mater, URI, horses and spending time on Prince Edward Island with Desi.
Chuck Adamopoulos, the head football coach at Central Catholic in Lawrence, followed his father's footsteps in attending URI, where he played rugby. Now Arthur's granddaughter Catherine is there.
"Third generation at URI, my Dad would have loved that," said Chuck. "One thing I regret is that he didn't live long enough to see it because he would have loved taking trips to visit her.
"When I was a kid we'd go out, and he'd always bump into one of his former players. The thing that always stands out in my mind is how much respect they had for him and he really cared about his players. If one got hurt and was in the hospital, he'd be there for hours.
Arthur's brother Charlie was a full-time horse trainer, and the family owned and raised thoroughbred horses on their 25-acre farm in Groveland.
"My uncle Charlie trained them full-time, going all over the East Coast down to Maryland and Florida and up to Scarborough, Maine. My Dad always found time to help him out," said Chuck. "I don't know how he did it with teaching and coaching, but he was always on the go and always loved the horses.
"We used to call my Dad 'America's Guest' because he could talk his way into any place. He always knew somebody through some connection. One night we played in New Bedford and one of my assistants told me he was parked near one of the goal posts. He talked the cops into letting him pull his car into the stadium. Apparently one guy knew somebody who had played for my Dad."
After stepping down at Peabody, Adamopoulos never went very far away from football. He liked to stop by Central Catholic and Pentucket practices a couple of times a week and talk to the players.
"He was my players' lawyer; he'd tell me and us when we were too tough on kids," said Chuck said. "He'd watch a game film when we won by 30 points, and after he analyzed it I'd feel like we lost, 40-0, the way he picked apart all our mistakes. He never cared about stats; he just wanted plays executed."
ARTHUR ADAMOPOULOS — BY THE NUMBERS
2 — Undefeated teams at Peabody High (1969 and 1976)
5-2 — The basic defense run by Adamopolus' Tanner teams
62 — Points the 1976 squad scored against Saugus on Thanksgiving