By Matt Jenkins
Robert "Bill" Broderick was a savior.
At least he was treated that way when he was pried away from Haverhill High School in 1923, convinced that he should come to Salem High as the new football coach to resurrect the school's program.
Broderick did his job, and then some. He made Salem football relevant and, even though he has been dead for nearly a half century, his place in Salem High School, North Shore and Massachusetts football history is secure.
The legendary light cast by Broderick with the Witches during the 1920s, '30s and into the '40s may be flickering more and more each year. But even though the great anecdotes may disappear one by one as the players he coached in the prime of his career continue to pass away, there is one thing that will forever withstand the test of time.
All 304 of them.
Having accumulating three straight unbeaten seasons at Haverhill High before joining the Witches, Broderick kept on winning in Salem. When he finally coached his final game for the Red-and-Black in 1949 (following a seven-year absence from the sidelines), he had won 162 games for the Witch City.
Only Brockton's Armond Columbo, who also coached at Archbishop Williams, has more career wins (316) in the Bay State than Broderick.
His place at the top of Salem's list seems pretty secure as well.
In total, Broderick amassed a record of 162-50-32 at Salem High (.733 winning percentage). By comparison, Ken Perrone went 151-64-7 in 22 years. Third on the list is Sean Gallagher, who finished with 41 victories and one Super Bowl title (1999) while coaching from 1995-2003.
Perrone never met Broderick. By the time he had taken over the Witches in 1973, Broderick stories were no longer floating through the locker room.
"What I did know is that he set the standard for Salem High School football," Perrone said. "He was a very successful coach, and we all tried to emulate what he did."
Setting the standard
Of course, duplicating what Broderick did on the gridiron was nearly impossible.
By all accounts Broderick was a very powerful, motivating man on and off the field. He was just as likely to inspire his players to victory in a critical game as he was to influence his city and school to repair or rebuild his team's beloved football stadium.
Broderick was believed to be the man behind Bertram Field's renovation in 1924; Salem had been playing its home games at Bridge Street grounds because of Bertram's poor field conditions. Roughly 10 years earlier — while coaching at Haverhill High School — he had enough pull to get ground broken for a new Haverhill Stadium.
Like so many other top coaches, Broderick was a master motivator.
"He had a great mind. He gave wonderful talks before the game," the late Joseph "Pep" Cornacchio, a former player of Broderick's, told The Salem News in 1999, when the coach was featured in this newspaper's "Century 21" series that highlighted the most influential athletic figures on the North Shore in the 20th century.
"(Those speeches) were so inspirational, it motivated us."
Broderick made an impact immediately when he took over in 1923. The six seasons before he arrived, Salem went 23-26-9. Broderick's first six years resulted in an overall record of 57-10-7.
Salem's complete dominance over Beverly during the Broderick Era also began in high style, as he led his team — via an unusual route — to a 7-0 road victory over Beverly, the school's first since the turn of the century. On that particular day, Broderick instructed the bus driver to take the less conventional route by going over the Kernwood Bridge into Beverly, instead of using the more traditional route over the Beverly-Salem Bridge.
After the shutout win, the Kernwood Bridge became the only route Broderick's teams would ever take into Beverly.
Broderick's final record against Beverly was a remarkable 15-2-4. During one 17-year span, Salem went 13-0-4 while outscoring its Thanksgiving Day rivals, 278-18.
Big reputation, bigger expectations
Broderick came to Salem High with a huge reputation and even bigger expectations. But he didn't come easily.
Born in North Adams, Broderick attended Drury High before playing football at Holy Cross. He had enjoyed tremendous success as a coach with Rindge Tech (now Cambridge Rindge & Latin), then Haverhill.
In order to pull Broderick away from Haverhill, it reportedly took a yearly salary offer of $6,400 — an over-the-top payday at the time. Using an inflation calculator, that would give Broderick a modern day coaching-only salary of nearly $80,000.
He was apparently worth every penny as Salem won eight, 11, and 14 games in his first three years. His first team was unbeaten in the regular season, losing only two postseason games; his third club, in 1925, had only one tie in 15 games to blemish an otherwise perfect campaign. Back then, games weren't scheduled the same way they are today; thus, the 14 victories will likely remain a Salem High single-season record forever.
Salem settled for a scoreless tie to open that season against General Electric Apprentice School of Lynn, then reeled off 14 consecutive wins, including victories over out-of-state opponents Ansonia, Conn., Portland, Maine, and Leon High of Florida. Salem's season also included a 35-0 win over Revere in the spring.
It was Broderick's first undefeated season at Salem, and he went on to have two more in 1931 (10-0-2) and 1941 (9-0-2).
Traveling to play high school football wasn't common at the time, but Broderick paved the way for his teams to get on the road by presenting road trips as educational experiences. During the Broderick Era, Salem played in New Jersey, Ohio, Chicago and Miami, and the 1933 team traveled to Los Angeles by steamboat.
Apparently, the flimsy rules and loose boundaries of the time also gave Broderick a little recruiting leeway.
"Football, from what Pep (Cornacchio) had told me, was so much different then. He was dragging players in from Swampscott and Lynn," Perrone said. "You could get away with more then because the rules were not as strict. It was an altogether different era, but he was a very successful coach who will go down as one of the best ever in the state of Massachusetts."
Looking beyond high school football
The success that followed Broderick wasn't just chance and it wasn't based solely on X's and O's. A Broderick-coached team was going to be more physically fit and programmed to outwork its opponents.
Each season started with a preseason camp, initially held in New Hampshire before moving to Broderick's home in Boxford. Nearly the entire focus of the camp was on conditioning.
"The training camp was for 10 days," the late Phil Tassinari, a member of the 1949 team, told The Salem News in 1999. "We didn't have contact until the last two. We went through hell for 10 days. I dropped a lot of baby fat and put it on as muscle. We worked like horses and they fed you like horses."
Broderick's wish to instill a strong work ethic in his team wasn't completely done to produce wins on the field. Broderick was aiming for his boys to have success in all walks of life.
"Victory is not the important item; rather more so, are the lessons in character building that are received on the field," Broderick said in 1934, as quoted on the back cover of the "100 Years of Salem High School Football" that was published in 1990.
Broderick wanted his players to continue their education after high school, which was not exactly a common thing in those days. He had connections to college coaches, including legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne.
One of the most famous and successful football players to ever come out of Salem High was Wayne Millner, an All-State star receiver in the late 1920s who Broderick helped direct to Rockne and Notre Dame in 1933.
Millner went on to join the Boston (later Washington) Redskins after Notre Dame and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1968 — the only North Shore pro athlete in one of this country's four major sports Halls of Fame. He is also a member of the NFL's All-Decade team of the 1930s and is a member of the Redskins' Ring of Honor.
Much like a legendary professional athlete that doesn't know when to retire, Broderick's reign at Salem also ended with a whimper.
He became ill during the 1942 season — a season that ended in a disappointing 1-7-2 record — and walked away, only to return in 1949 after Salem trudged their way through six ordinary seasons.
His return to the sideline generated tons of excitement once again in Salem, but his health interfered. Broderick was reportedly only a shell of the coach he once was, and he walked away from the team around midseason when his physical state just wouldn't allow him to be there. Assistant coach Marty Donovan finished the season as acting coach in Broderick's absence.
"I can't say too much about Broderick; Marty Donovan, I remember him well," Ray Kozlowski, who was a junior halfback on the 1949 team, said. "Bill was out a lot and when he showed up, he wasn't too active."
It had been seven years since he last coached in Salem, but the athletes knew who he was. Many had brothers, relatives or family friends who played for Broderick and his reputation preceded him.
"I remember him showing up and he was very serious," Kozlowski, who captained the 1950 team, said. "He had the respect of everyone. We all knew of his reputation. During that 10 years Salem wasn't doing very well and they probably thought if they brought him back, the magic would come."
The only magic that came that season, however, was when a Salem team that had only won one previous game went into Beverly to play a championship-caliber squad, coached by fellow legend Charlie Walsh. Donovan used Broderick's illness to inspire his team, and borrowed some formations from previous coach Glenn O'Brien to confuse the Panthers.
"Marty came across some spread plays from O'Brien," Kozlowski recalled. "That game we were always changing formations."
Salem surprised Beverly and snuck out of town with a 26-19 victory, one of Salem's greatest ever upsets. In some ways, that contest served as a final tribute to one of the best high school football coaches the state of Massachusetts will ever see.
Broderick passed away in 1964. He was preceded in death by his wife, Helen Pond Broderick, and had no children.
Adding to the mystique and legend of Broderick was the death of Donovan. Allegedly, Donovan was driving back from Florida to Salem at age 86 in April of 1973 when he went missing. Five years later, some hunters found the skeletal remains of Donovan in the woods near Broderick's old football camp in New Hampshire.
No one could ever confirm why Donovan would have been there, but in all likelihood he was just trying to recapture some of the glory from the Broderick coaching days in Salem. Who could've blamed him?
BILL BRODERICK — BY THE NUMBERS
1 — Pro Football Hall of Famers he coached at Salem (Wayne Millner)
3 — Undefeated teams at Salem High (1925, 1931, 1941)
304 — Career victories, second most in Massachusetts history