Northeast Times

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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