— George Todt arrived at Archbishop Ryan in 1969 to coach soccer; 44 years later, he is finally ready to say goodbye.
It was just about 24 hours after George Todt’s 929th and final game as the coach of the Archbishop Ryan’s boys’ soccer team, and he was in a reflective mood.
Sure, the results will show Todt lost his last game, a crushing defeat in penalty kicks to La Salle in the Catholic League semifinals that ended a strong season and a brilliant 44-year-career. But when the story of George Todt is told for years to come, nobody will remember that he departed on the heels of a loss.
Instead, they’ll likely talk about a man who compiled 650 wins at Ryan, the most in Pennsylvania history and fifth most nationally. They’ll talk of his 13 Catholic League championships, including six straight from 1983-88; they’ll converse about his 43 years spent as an advanced French teacher at the school, where, along with his coaching duties, he helped shape the lives of countless young men and women.
People will also discuss Todt’s role as the Ryan athletic director, a position he’s held since 1976; in that role, Todt not only established Ryan as a premier soccer program, but also built an athletics foundation from the ground up.
Finally, and most importantly, they’ll talk of his relentless work ethic and commitment to every single kid that stepped into his classroom or onto his field in the last four decades, often spending more time with them than he did his own family.
Knowing what he’s accomplished, Todt, who will soon celebrate his 65th birthday, is at peace with his decision to walk away. While he’ll remain the athletic director to help ease the transition to a new regime, Todt’s time as a coach and teacher are finished in favor of a new role as loving husband, proud father (son Ryan is one of his top soccer assistants) and doting “Pop Pop” to his eight grandchildren.
“This place, it’s been my life … it’s who I am,” Todt said during a Sunday morning conversation at his office. “I came here as a 21-year-old out of St. Joseph’s University in 1969 and developed a program out of nothing. Looking back, you spend a lifetime creating memories, and then you become one. That’s what life is.”
Todt announced his retirement from coaching a few weeks ago, but said he knew before the season started that this one would be his last.
“After wearing three hats as coach, teacher and athletic director, I just zeroed in on another stage of my life,” he said. “My wife retired a year ago, and we want to build this last stage of our lives. When someone’s calling you ‘Pop Pop’ at 3 years old and you realize they love you more than anything … I had to make sure I gave myself and my family this time.”
Todt made it clear that he’s not walking away from the program he built because he no longer enjoys it. He still has his health and some energy left in the tank, which he wants to devote to his family for however much time he has left.
And he knows that even though Ryan will have its first boys’ soccer coach who is not named George Todt in 2013, the relationships he’s built through the years will sustain his role in the Ryan community forever.
He is proud of what he has done, and humbled by the impact he’s had on so many lives. Todt learned how to be successful by emulating the success North Catholic’s soccer program had in the 1970s; now, it’s someone else’s turn to learn from Todt’s experience and success.
Todt was fiery until the end during Saturday’s loss, his face red with anger and forehead veins pulsing as he shouted instructions at his team. When it was over, he shifted roles, soothing his players, many of whose eyes were red with tears.
“It’s like getting shot … it all just oozes out of you at once,” Todt said of the final game’s emotions. “I just told them that there are wins and losses, but never failure. It takes tremendous courage to do what they did. To get that close on a team full of overachievers, you appreciate what they did that much more.”
Todt, a 1965 graduate of Father Judge (he joked he went there and not Ryan because “Ryan didn’t exist yet”), played three years of soccer at St. Joe’s before he got hired at Ryan. He put in the grinding work that goes with building a successful program and didn’t win his first title until 1981. From there, his presence and impact exploded, not only at Ryan, where he built a splendid facility named in his honor that serves as the Mecca of Catholic League soccer, but also within the league itself. Over the years, with the emergence of programs such as Judge, Roman Catholic, La Salle, St. Joseph’s Prep as premier programs alongside Ryan, the Catholic League has become one of the strongest — if not the strongest — in the state.
“He’s a legend,” Judge coach John Dunlop said. “What he’s done is remarkable, and it’s been a pleasure coaching against him.”
“I applaud him for his dedicated, unwavering and heartfelt work in making the Catholic League the best for soccer in Pennsylvania,” said Roman coach Ray DeStephanis. “Speaking for the entire Roman soccer family, we wish George a healthy and relaxing retirement.”
“He’s had a huge impact on me,” said Ryan football coach Frank McArdle, who worked in Todt’s office while a student at the school in the early 1990s. “I saw him every day at school, and still do, so I can’t even picture him not being here. When he called me to ask me to be the football coach … it’s something I’ll never forget.”
With his retirement has come countless well wishes from a plethora of people, young and old, and Todt appreciates every one of them.
“The response has been unbelievable,” he said. “I had three guys from my 1972 team come to our quarterfinals win over Roman (Todt’s last win as coach) because they wanted to share the moment with me. You get these kids at 14 years old and have four years to leave an imprint on their lives. It’s not a responsibility I’ve ever taken lightly. You help them, and in turn they help you. I’ve learned a lot from them. That’s what life is … creating memories with people.”
Now, in addition to his new full-time Pop Pop gig, Todt will oversee the selection of the next Ryan soccer coach. It will be an open application process, but Todt has a history of hiring in-house candidates that he trusts. He hired McArdle, a former Ryan football player, as football coach, as well as Bernie Rogers (boys basketball) and Ryan Haney (girls soccer), who both played soccer for Todt over the years. He is a believer in the Ryan tradition, one he’s been on board with from the start, and he trusts those that he’s seen grow up as part of the family.
“They’ve been my second family,” he said of the people he’s met at the school. “Whether you know them for three years or thirty years, you learn to lean on them for survival. All of that has meant so much to me. Life is about people, and those people in my life have defined me. You become who you are based on relationships with people, and I’ve been enriched by those around me.
“I always say the smartest people you know are the ones who learn from their mistakes, and I’ve probably made more of them than anyone. But they were made doing the best I can, and you’re never a failure if you always give your best. It’s all I’ve ever done, and it’s all I’ve asked from my kids.”
Spending extended time with Todt gives a glimpse of a man who is incredibly proud of what he has done with his life. Strolling through the empty school hallways on Sunday, he pointed out the banners hanging from the rafters of both school gymnasiums that commemorate the championships won by each Ryan athletic team.
But his baby is undoubtedly the Ryan Hall of Fame he’s established. His main focus has obviously been on soccer, which will welcome its fifth Hall of Fame class next week, but he also proudly showed off a glass case enshrining accomplishments of the football program and its own Hall of Fame.
“I’m proud of the fact that athletics here have meant so much to so many people,” he said as he showed off the soccer Hall of Fame display case. “Because of this, we can always cherish the moments we shared together.”
And make no mistake about it, Todt will miss the only three jobs he’s ever had. He’ll miss the new kids he’d meet every year in the classroom and on the soccer field, and he’ll miss the purity of high school athletics, the “last moment in a kid’s life where he plays entirely for the love of his friends and school. Later on, it becomes a job, but for those four years, it’s just the greatest thing.”
When 21-year-old Todt arrived, Ryan was a blank canvas; now, almost 65-year-old George gets to leave on top, having painted his 44-year-masterpiece. It hasn’t come easy, but anything worth having never does, and he knows that.
When asked if he had any regrets, Todt paused, giving long thought to his answer.
“Not only do I have no regrets, but I just feel blessed sitting here before you today,” he said. “How many people get up and go to work every day at 7 a.m. not because they have to, but because they want to be there? I came to work every day and worked with some really special people, from teachers to coaches to kids to administrators.”
And for one brief moment, Todt relinquished his famous poker face and got choked up just ever so slightly.
“To be a part of their lives … I’m just blessed,” he said. “There’s an inner glow in me for the opportunity to have this in my life.” ••
Sports editor Ed Morrone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or firstname.lastname@example.org