When he was still a little-known assistant football coach at Northeastern University, Frank McArdle remembers the uneasy nervousness on one of his first recruiting trips to the Philadelphia area.
Fresh out of college and working for a little-known Division I-AA program, McArdle was tasked with recruiting on the same field at Cardinal O’Hara as coaches from powerhouse programs such as Penn State, Stanford and Syracuse. Though it was nearly 10 years ago, McArdle still recalls vividly just how much Danny Algeo made McArdle feel like he belonged.
“I walked in there, a young coach from Northeastern, and Danny treated me like Pete Carroll,” said McArdle, now the head coach at Archbishop Ryan. “He treated me like gold, and made sure I talked to every kid I wanted to that day. I was a nobody, but he made sure I was taken care of. That spoke volumes about Danny as a person.”
McArdle spoke in the past tense, as Algeo, who had been the head football coach at O’Hara since 2004, died last Thursday after suffering a heart attack. He was just 49 years old.
Though Algeo’s coaching stops never brought him through Northeast Philly, his death still reverberated throughout the Catholic League, where those who coach football are a tight fraternity of brothers. They are men who try to beat each other between the lines, but away from the field are bonded together as ambassadors for a league that has become a force to be reckoned with at the city and state levels. When one of their comrades passes way before his time, they all hurt.
McArdle, who will enter his sixth season at Ryan this fall, had a unique relationship with Algeo. Beginning in 2010, the two schools began an annual tradition of opening their respective seasons against each other in a non-league game down the shore in Ocean City, New Jersey. O’Hara won that first game, 20-0, as well as the following two by narrower margins. When the Raiders finally broke through this past season, thumping Algeo’s Lions 37-20, McArdle’s phone rang later that evening.
It was Algeo.
“He just called to congratulate me and our program for getting over the hump,” McArdle recalled. “He told me how happy he was for me. To be that gracious after a loss speaks volumes about the kind of man he was. He saw that we were turning our program around, and even when they were beating us he’d talk to my kids and tell them they were doing everything right and would soon turn it around. He wasn’t just about himself … he wanted to see the league succeed.”
Algeo graduated in 1983 from Lansdale Catholic, where his father, Jim, won 293 games as the school’s head football coach over 44 seasons. Danny began his coaching career as an assistant under his father, a role he held for 13 seasons before getting the head coaching job at Roman Catholic in 1996.
He stayed at Roman until 1999, winning a Catholic League Red Division title in his final season. Algeo landed at Phoenixville in 2000 and was an assistant at Widener University in 2002 until he landed the gig as O’Hara’s offensive coordinator before taking over as head coach the next year. He won another Red Division title his first year on the job, and remained at O’Hara until his death last week. Algeo won 98 games in his career, and is one of three coaches in league history to win titles at two different schools.
In the upcoming season, Archbishop Ryan has moved down from Class AAAA to Class AAA to join O’Hara, meaning the annual shore kickoff would be scrapped in place of a division rivalry game later in the season.
“I can’t picture looking over at that sideline and not seeing Danny,” McArdle said. “It will be very weird to not see him wearing the light blue O’Hara polo shirt he always had on. I’ll never forget the long talks we would have before that shore game every year. We’re losing a great person, a great coach and a great friend. It hurts.”
Those around the league had similar stories to share about Algeo’s genuine kindness and fierce advocacy of the league, which he helped usher into the PIAA a decade ago. Roman head coach Joe McCourt, who played for Algeo as a Cahillite, recounted a similar story to McArdle’s to the Philadelphia Daily News, saying that Algeo called him up after a 2012 Roman victory over O’Hara to congratulate him.
Tom Coyle, who coached at Father Judge for 13 seasons, said it was the tireless behind-the-scenes work Algeo did for the league that made him so special.
“He really drove the ship leading the Catholic League into the PIAA,” said Coyle, now the head coach at Penn Charter. “He really promoted the league, and any of those schools owes a lot of credit to Danny. He was always ready to encourage players in the league, and not just at his school, to pursue college opportunities. He wore that proudly.
“And he had a difficult job following in his father’s footsteps, living in the shadow of what Jim accomplished at Lansdale. It probably wasn’t always easy for Danny being compared to his dad. But they both wore their titles gracefully and were different people who were successful in their own ways.”
Coyle said he spent 20 minutes talking to Algeo at a league dinner at Villanova back in May, one that honored football players for their academic achievements. On July 15, Penn Charter was supposed to travel to O’Hara to participate in a 7-on-7 event, something Coyle said he assumes is now “in limbo.” When Coyle received a text message informing him of Algeo’s sudden passing, he was so taken aback that he had to sit down.
“I took a minute to sit down and think where I was in my life, what type of effect I’m having on my family and the kids I coach,” said Coyle, the father of two young children. “I’m only a few years younger than Danny was, so it allows you to take inventory of your life and what your goals are for today and long range. When I talked to him in May, he was very happy for me and my situation at Penn Charter. It’s just very, very sad to see someone like him go.”
Coyle and McArdle both said Algeo helped bring them out of their shells as young coaches in a competitive league, encouraging them to get involved in events such as the East-West All-Star Game and the Big 33 Football Classic. It was just the type of person he was, and it’s why he will be missed by so many.
“A bunch of us will have to step up in his place behind the scenes,” McArdle said. “It puts things in perspective. You want to enjoy the time you have with the kids and not place such an importance on wins. It was never about Danny. It was about the league. He wanted to show everyone else how good we were. He was a guy who just got it. It’s a huge loss for us all.” ••