Northeast Times

The End of an Era

George Todt watches his fi­nal game as Arch­bish­op Ry­an’s soc­cer coach, a play­off loss to La Salle. Todt came to Ry­an in 1969 as a 21-year-old to coach soc­cer and teach French, and also be­came the school’s ath­let­ic dir­ect­or in 1976. GREG BEZ­ANIS /

— 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 em­or­rone@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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