A ‘Dream Come True’

— Mike McKay, a 1976 gradu­ate of Fath­er Judge, has been tabbed to be the sixth head foot­ball coach in school his­tory

Mike Mckay, Fath­er Judge’s new head foot­ball coach at the school Monday. (Brad Lar­ris­on)

Mike McKay sat in­side Room 103 at Fath­er Judge on Monday af­ter­noon, cradling the game ball from the 1975 city cham­pi­on­ship game he quar­ter­backed. On that day, McKay’s Cru­saders de­feated Frank­ford, 9-6, in a game played at Vet­er­ans Sta­di­um.

Now, more than 37 years later, McKay has been named Judge’s next head foot­ball coach, re­pla­cing Tommy Coyle, who stepped down in late Feb­ru­ary after 13 sea­sons to take the same po­s­i­tion at Penn Charter.

As far as full circle is con­cerned, the 54-year-old Sum­mer­dale nat­ive just took the cake, and prob­ably the cherry on top, too. 

“It’s an ab­so­lute dream come true,” he said on Monday in­side the school he gradu­ated from in 1976. “It’s the only head coach­ing job I’d ever con­sider ap­ply­ing for.”

It will be the first head coach­ing job for McKay at the high school level; he served as Arch­bish­op Car­roll’s of­fens­ive co­ordin­at­or last sea­son, and has also had suc­cess­ful co­ordin­at­or stints at North­east, Arch­bish­op Wood, Up­per Merion and Car­din­al Dougherty over a 12-year ca­reer. 

Mul­tiple sources told the North­east Times on Fri­day af­ter­noon that McKay had been se­lec­ted for the po­s­i­tion, though the job was not of­fi­cially offered by the Rev. Joseph Campel­lone, Judge’s pres­id­ent, un­til Sunday even­ing. McKay grate­fully ac­cep­ted. He met with his new team on Monday af­ter­noon in a gath­er­ing at­ten­ded by Judge le­gend John “Whitey” Sul­li­van, who was McKay’s head coach back in the ’70s. 

McKay is just the sixth head foot­ball coach in the school’s his­tory, and only the third in the last 39 years (Sul­li­van coached for 25 sea­sons, fol­lowed by Coyle’s 13). Need­less to say, the ex­clus­iv­ity of the op­por­tun­ity is not lost on him.

“The last 24 hours have been very emo­tion­al and have brought back so many memor­ies,” McKay said in a nearly 30-minute Q&A. “Con­sid­er­ing it’s been 37 years since I stepped off that field, it’s just spe­cial all around. Not many people have had this op­por­tun­ity, and it’s one in a mil­lion to be able to come back to the school that gave me so much. It’s amaz­ing the op­por­tun­ity is there, and even more amaz­ing that I got it.”

McKay is known as an of­fens­ive guru and in­nov­at­or. He is a pro­ponent of the spread of­fense, al­though he said the sys­tem he and his staff will run would de­pend on the skills of the play­ers left from Coyle’s last team. McKay has de­veloped five First Team All-League quar­ter­backs, though he bristled when a re­port­er asked if his coach­ing style could be com­pared to the run-and-gun ap­proach of new Eagles head coach Chip Kelly.

“Don’t tag me as Chip Kelly,” he said. “The game is con­stantly chan­ging, and there are al­ways in­nov­at­ors try­ing new things. I pride my­self on stay­ing one step ahead and be­ing a go-get­ter who isn’t afraid to try something dif­fer­ent. I like the spread, but that doesn’t mean that’s what’s go­ing to hap­pen. You tweak your sys­tem to fit the kids you have, and that’s what we’ll do here.”

McKay won three Cath­ol­ic League Blue Di­vi­sion titles at Wood from 2003-05, and was also on Chris Ri­ley’s staff at North­east when the Vik­ings won the Pub­lic League cham­pi­on­ship in 2010. So far, his Cru­sader coach­ing staff con­sists of Dan Pfeif­fer (of­fens­ive co­ordin­at­or), Vern Beale (de­fens­ive co­ordin­at­or) and Sean Boyle (line­back­ers coach, and a Judge grad). McKay re­mained open to in­ter­view­ing some as­sist­ant hol­d­overs from the Coyle era to com­plete his staff. 

All three present as­sist­ants have coached with or un­der McKay, and the new head coach glow­ingly spoke of the trio’s big-game coach­ing ex­per­i­ence.

“Short term, we just want to re-fo­cus to see where we’re at with this pro­gram,” McKay said. “We want to be vis­ible in the com­munity, and ob­vi­ously the ex­pect­a­tion for every­one is to win. We need to see where the pro­gram is today, and what we need to do to take it back to where it needs to go. All of us want to be in those big games at the end of the sea­son … you’d be crazy not to.”

The ul­ti­mate goal will be to re­turn Judge’s foot­ball pro­gram to prom­in­ence. Coyle, who was well liked and re­spec­ted by most, still only man­aged a 73-77 over­all re­cord in his 13 sea­sons. Much of this is a byproduct of how strong the Cath­ol­ic League is, but in re­cent years the Cru­saders have been lapped by La Salle, St. Joseph’s Prep and Ro­man Cath­ol­ic, who have es­tab­lished them­selves as an­nu­al powers in the league.

Even Arch­bish­op Ry­an, the fifth and fi­nal team in the Cath­ol­ic League’s Class AAAA Di­vi­sion, beat the Cru­saders for the first time in five sea­sons in 2012. 

But McKay didn’t take the bait when he was asked about spe­cif­ic pro­grams he might want Judge to live up to.

“It’s too soon for all of that,” he said. “It’s a one-day-at-a-time pro­cess, and I only just met my team. All I can tell you is that we want to win, and we will work as hard as we can on the game in front of us each week. We will work with them every day to get them ready for each game, no mat­ter who the op­pon­ent is.”

McKay, a ter­min­al truck­ing man­ager in Lang­horne, seemed eager and al­most im­pa­tient to get star­ted. His im­me­di­ate or­ders of busi­ness are to fill out his staff and get his play­ers on an off­season workout re­gi­men that he hopes will carry through the sum­mer un­til camp opens.

He spoke of want­ing to keep the neigh­bor­hood kids at Judge, in­stead of see­ing them de­fect to sub­urb­an schools like La Salle or Wood. McKay also spoke of his de­sire to bring “blue col­lar” type stu­dent-ath­letes to a school and com­munity that is the epi­tome of the term.

“Foot­ball is a tough, men­tal game,” he said. “You need those types of hard-nosed kids, and they ex­ist right here in these loc­al neigh­bor­hoods.”

Judge’s “re-fo­cused” roster in 2013 will likely see plenty of new faces, though tal­en­ted hol­d­overs such as RB Samir Bul­lock (1,086 rush­ing yards as a sopho­more), RB/DB Mar­quis Sea­mon (re­turn­ing from wrist sur­gery), OL Tom Bay­er and LB Joe Nig­ro are all ex­pec­ted to be back.

McKay de­scribed his play­ers as “re­lieved” to fi­nally put an end to the pro­cess. They don’t know much about McKay, but they will soon, and they’ll like what they see, his as­sist­ants main­tained.

“He’s very good with the kids,” Pfeif­fer said. “They’ll warm up to him right away.”

“He’s a born lead­er,” Beale said. “That’s why none of us had any prob­lems leav­ing where we were to fol­low him.”

Ad­ded Boyle: “Any­thing he does will in­spire these kids … plus, he’s a Judge guy.”

While that alone won’t en­sure auto­mat­ic suc­cess, the Judge search com­mit­tee is likely pleased it landed someone who fit the fol­low­ing cri­ter­ia: 1) Judge alum, 2) proven track re­cord and 3) fa­mili­ar­ity with the Cath­ol­ic League. 

When the hoopla was over and McKay had fin­ished an­swer­ing ques­tions and pos­ing for pho­to­graphs, he was ready to get to work.

“There’s so much to do, start­ing right now,” he said. “As I told the kids today, I’m here for them … this pro­gram is not about me. I want them to en­joy the game and get valu­able ex­per­i­ence. I still have memor­ies of my time here and that ca­marader­ie we had.

“When I ac­cep­ted the job, I got phone calls from guys on that ’75 team. We talked about it like it was yes­ter­day. How spe­cial is that? That’s ex­actly the type of ex­per­i­ence I want these kids to have.” ••

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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