Coyle off and running as Penn Charter’s coach

The former Fath­er Judge head coach, who stepped down in Feb­ru­ary after 13 sea­sons with the Cru­saders, bagged his first vic­tory as Penn Charter's coach.

Man in the middle: Tommy Coyle heads back to the side­line after con­sult­ing with his Penn Charter play­ers in Sat­urday’s 48-20 win over Fels. After win­ning 73 games in 13 years at Judge, Coyle now stands at 1-0 as PC’s head coach. ED MOR­RONE / TIMES PHOTO

If Tommy Coyle got off to any faster of a start as Penn Charter’s head foot­ball coach, a po­lice of­ficer would have pulled him over for speed­ing.

It’s hard to ima­gine the de­but go­ing smooth­er for Coyle, who was the head coach at Fath­er Judge from 2000-13, amass­ing 73 wins and guid­ing the Cru­saders to the Cath­ol­ic League Class AAAA Fi­nal in 2008 in the pro­cess. Coyle also gradu­ated from Judge in 1987.

However, when the dust had settled in Penn Charter’s 48-20 sea­son-open­ing vic­tory over Samuel Fels on Sat­urday at the elite private school in East Falls, there was no doubt­ing that Coyle had left Judge in the past to fo­cus on his present and fu­ture. He made it known that he couldn’t be more grate­ful for his time at Judge, a school so near and dear to his heart, but that he was ec­stat­ic to write a new chapter in his coach­ing ca­reer.

“Like I was at Fath­er Judge, I am sur­roun­ded by great people here,” Coyle said. “Every day you look around (the cam­pus), and it’s just a great place to be. It gives you a lot of en­ergy to wake up every day and to come to a great place like this to coach foot­ball and be around great kids, fac­ulty, staff and ad­min­is­tra­tion. I’m ex­cited to get to school every day to work hard.”

Coyle’s first win at Penn Charter came quickly and rather eas­ily. First, seni­or Fred­die Perri took the open­ing kick­off back 77 yards for a score. Then, Fels’ Mi­chael Turnage fumbled the en­su­ing kick­off, which PC fresh­man Den­arii Beard scooped up and re­turned 10 yards for a score. After a Pan­thers three-and-out, PC seni­or run­ning back James Fra­zi­er-Biggs scampered 25 yards for a score on the drive’s first play, and the Quakers led 21-0 not even two minutes in­to the game. A touch­down catch by sopho­more Jake Mc­Cain and a 19-yard rush­ing score by Corey Kel­ley put Penn Charter up 34-0 after one, and the score­board read 48-0 at the half.

To the Pan­thers’ cred­it, they didn’t quit at half­time, fight­ing to the end for three second-half scores while keep­ing Penn Charter off the board. Seni­or Jy­lil Reed­er broke the school’s single-game re­ceiv­ing yard­age re­cord, haul­ing in sev­en catches for 208 yards and all three Fels touch­downs.

But this day was about Coyle, even if the coach pre­ferred to de­flect the cred­it to his play­ers and coach­ing staff. His re­turn to Penn Charter has been a home­com­ing of sorts, as im­me­di­ately after gradu­at­ing from Judge, he served as a PC de­fens­ive as­sist­ant from 1987-2000, un­til he was tabbed to lead the Cru­saders pro­gram. Now, after 13 years away, Coyle has re­turned to where it all star­ted, the place where his two chil­dren — Ava, 10, and Quinn, 8 — are stu­dents in the kinder­garten through twelfth grade in­sti­tu­tion.

“I feel good, but I’m really just happy for our kids,” Coyle said of Penn Charter’s roster, which lists an astound­ing 16 fresh­men. “I told our guys at half­time, this really val­id­ated all the hard work they put in dur­ing the off­season. They’ve em­braced us as a coach­ing staff. Everything we’ve asked them to do, they’ve done.”

Speak­ing of the coach­ing staff, Coyle’s is a mix of both Judge and Penn Charter faces. With him from Judge, Coyle brought Fran Cos­tello (de­fens­ive backs), Ca­sey Jones (of­fens­ive lines), Ry­an Nase (de­fens­ive line) and Steve Ne­j­man (line­back­ers); that quar­tet is joined by, among oth­er names, Bri­an Mc­Clo­s­key, Penn Charter’s head coach from 1995-2007 who has stayed on as an as­sist­ant. Mc­Clo­s­key and Coyle are close friends, and both pre­vi­ously served as as­sist­ants un­der former head coach Bill Galla­gh­er.

“Tommy stands for all that is good about high school ath­let­ics,” said Mc­Clo­s­key, who has been at Penn Charter for 27 years. “He is com­mit­ted to ex­cel­lence both on and off the play­ing field.”

“Be­cause of his pri­or ex­per­i­ence here, and the fact that his chil­dren at­tend Penn Charter, Tom has a good un­der­stand­ing of the (Penn Charter) stu­dent-ath­lete,” ad­ded Rick Mel­lor, PC’s re­cently re­tired long­time base­ball coach who has stayed on as a Coyle as­sist­ant. “He’s a high-en­ergy coach, and he has the kids be­liev­ing in them­selves and in the team.”

Penn Charter ath­let­ic dir­ect­or John Thiel spoke of Coyle’s abil­ity to bring in stu­dent-ath­letes whom the school might have pre­vi­ously missed out on, mainly in North­east Phil­adelphia, where Coyle spent so much time work­ing, and still resides.

“He’s brought new life in­to a his­tor­ic pro­gram,” Thiel said. “He’s re­in­vig­or­ated foot­ball with­in the school. We have more fresh­men out for foot­ball than in re­cent years, many of whom will make an im­pact on our team this year.”

For his part, Coyle isn’t try­ing to do any­thing dif­fer­ent than in the past. He had suc­cess in the Cath­ol­ic League while at Judge, and he sees a lot of sim­il­ar­it­ies at Penn Charter, namely the type of pride­ful stu­dent-ath­letes whom both schools tend to at­tract.

“Any­thing they’ve been asked to do, they’ve done to the best of their abil­it­ies,” Coyle said. “That’s all we ask of our kids. To fin­ish today 1-0 is great for us, and I’m do­ing it here with friends of mine both from Judge and Penn Charter. My wife and I are very happy that our chil­dren are here. I’ve really just en­joyed each day.”

Back in Feb­ru­ary, when Coyle de­cided to take the Penn Charter job, he said he was leav­ing one great place with great people for an­oth­er. He’s thank­ful for his time at Judge, but also elated to come full-circle at a fa­mil­i­ar place where his high school coach­ing ca­reer began. As Cos­tello said dur­ing a lull in the second half, “It’s dif­fer­ent, and the shirts are a dif­fer­ent shade of blue. It’s a bit of a cul­ture change, but I like it. We all do.”

Coyle is also an ad­mis­sions as­so­ci­ate at Penn Charter, so he gets to spend his en­tire day at the school, which is not a perk that all city high school head coaches can claim. As someone who’s al­ways had a de­sire to see young people reach their fullest po­ten­tial in the classroom and on the foot­ball field, it’s safe to say Coyle has landed in a situ­ation that fits him per­fectly.

“It’s im­port­ant that these young men and wo­men re­ceive the in­struc­tion that will take them for­ward in life,” he said. “I be­lieve — and Penn Charter be­lieves — that once the school day is over, it’s im­port­ant the kids bring the same at­ti­tude in­to their ex­tra­cur­riculars, wheth­er it’s foot­ball or drama or mu­sic. This school takes a lot of pride in what it presents.

“Everything is first class, and it’s very hum­bling to be a part of that en­vir­on­ment that they provide here.” ••

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