Coaches mourn passing of O’Hara’s Algeo

Frank McArdle and Tom Coyle reflect on memories of Danny Algeo, the Cardinal O’Hara football coach who died last Thursday at age 49.

Car­din­al O’Hara head foot­ball coach Danny Al­geo died of a heart at­tack last week at the age of 49, send­ing shock­waves throughout the high school city foot­ball land­scape. PHOTO COUR­TESY OF TED SIL­ARY

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.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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