DANVERS — The best way to describe Jim O’Leary comes from something Pat Yanchus said to me a little more than three years ago.
“Jim,” Yanchus, the recently retired St. John’s Prep baseball coach, said of the head football coach he assisted for 28 years, “has a place in his heart for the not-so-great player that has passion for the game.”
That always resonated with me, probably because that’s who I was a player in high school: the kid who probably couldn’t start but loved practice and just wanted to be a part of something great.
Yesterday, as O’Leary was stepping aside as head football coach and one of his former players, Eagles’ great Brian St. Pierre, was taking over during a press conference at the school, I couldn’t get that quote out of my head.
O’Leary won 207 games, two Super Bowls and had 24 winning seasons in 30 years as head coach. He won nine Catholic Conference titles. Think of the most talked about football games not just on the North Shore, but in state history, and he’s in the middle of them: the 1997 ‘Holy War’ against Xaverian, the 2002 Division 1 Super Bowl against Everett, etc.
If anything, O’Leary might be underrated as a football coach. Some people believe that coaching at a school with the resources St. John’s Prep has is easy; you just roll out the pads and the talent takes care of itself. Trust me, it’s a lot harder than it looks.
High school football is about more than X’s and O’s. Among all the intangibles that make it great, it’s about brotherhood and motivation. Few coaches understood that the way O’Leary did. He seemed to be all about the Jimmy’s and the Joe’s.