“Tighe School of Life:” The Life Lessons Learned of Legendary Longest Serving High School Football Coach Bill Tighe-by Dave Radlo
I had the great honor to play for and coach with the football legend, Bill Tighe, at Lexington High School, in Lexington, Massachusetts in the late 1970’s through the early 1990’s. He recently passed away from complications of Covid-19 at the age of 95. Coach Tighe was an Iwo Jima World War II hero that played football and baseball after the war for Boston University. He went on to become a dedicated family man and head high school football coach as well as baseball and track at times for 52 Years and 514 games until he retired as a winning and successful Head Football Coach at 86 earlier in the decade(but continued as a valued advisor to head coaches throughout the region until recently). Let’s examine how Bill Tighe operated.
VISION: Coach Tighe’s vision was to mold young athletes into strong, confident leaders and equip them with the necessary skills and tools to achieve greatness.
MISSION: His mission was simple: Win at football, family, and life. Be an honorable person and sportsman in doing so.
VALUES: His values were based on toughness, integrity, preparation, hard work, love of family, love of teammates, and respect for coaches, teachers, parents, and opponents while doing so with a smile and at times, laughter.
VALUE PROPOSITION: Coach Tighe over delivered on his value proposition. He found a college or a military placement for his players where they could continue their pursuit of excellence en route to lifelong leadership. In the time that I played and coached with Coach Tighe, he placed many of his players, including the undersigned into NCAA programs, including behind me in this picture, Jerry Montgomery at UCAL and Justin Beckett at Duke.
Jerry and Justin have successful careers and family lives as have most of us do that went to the Tighe School of Life. Coach placed kids coast to coast, and many went on to have great athletic careers, including those Phi Betta Kappa boyshe used to quip like the undersigned that went to New England small colleges and others that went to Ivy League schools. Tighe graduates went everywhere in the United States. Here is a small list of some of the schools that Tighe graduates went to when I was involved with the program: Tufts, Williams, Colby, Trinity, Harvard, Columbia, Cornell, Georgetown, Duke, BU, BC, Northeastern, the Marines, St. Lawrence, Plymouth State, Hartnell Junior College, UMASS Amherst and Lowell, AIC, Worcester Academy, Phillips-Andover, Bridgeton Academy, USMA-Westpoint, Worcester Academy, UCAL, UCLA, Framingham State, Nicols, and to those schools that coach said, “You just need a blood test to get into.” According to Coach, he had some favorite blood testschools in Kansas, North Dakota, and California. “There was a place for everyone,” coach laughed and told me in January 2020.
Dewey Evans remarked how Coach Tighe, even after placing him into Bridgeton Academy, actively worked to place him at the US Military Academy and other colleges. Coach Tighe also coached at times sons and grandsons of players.
Coach Tighe taught us all how to win and succeed. He used to say, “If you can take me, you can take anyone!” It was a great mix of fear and love. Every player had those times when they wished they were elsewhere when Coach focused his attention on a player that required corrective action. If you talked back, you would be informed, “You’re not tough enough to swear. I was in the fox holes of New Guinea and you don’t know what tough is!” Films don’t lie. Let’s see this again!” Other times with a lighthearted sense of humor he might say, “Could you kindly tap Bob’s helmet and see if anyone happens to be home? You chowderhead!” Being a quarterback himself, he was very tough on the players. “Run if you can. Throw if you must! Now, which one of those eight words don’t you understand?” And for receivers, “The ball hit you in the worst place of all… your hands! (Darn) it all. Catch the ball.” For lineman that got hit hard and were pushed back, he would say, “Did you pay him fifty cents for that ride?… you hit like a marshmallow.” For missing a tackle he’d say, “Miss tackle, miss tackle, miss tackle, could you kindly please hit and wrap your arms!” For letting down and having a poor performance in the next contest after a great game, one would here: You look like you’ve been reading and believing all of those newspaper clippings. You’ve proved they’re not true! (Darn) it all. Wake-up!”
If you made a huge mistake during a game like fumbling the ball, getting beat deep as a defensive back, missing a key block or tackle that cost a touchdown, or failing to contain the flow inside as a defensive end, you would have the pleasure of Coach in your face saying, “Thanks a lot. Look at what you cost the team. See that bench. Sit down!” He made sure you were accountable for your performance.
If you played a bad game, during the film session you would here, “Are you kidding me? You played lousy. I am going to trade you for a fiftieth round draft choice from Pop Warner… no cash involved!” The last game of my senior year, which happened to be Thanksgiving Day, I tore my medial meniscus in my knee during the third play. Coach schooled us that we played until the bone was showing. I came out of the game for one play and then went back for the rest of the game. About a week later, I was on crutches. Coach Tighe said, “When are you going to quit faking and throw those crutches away?” I told him that I was going into surgery the next day. In a moment, he got real serious sat me down and got the particulars. He was in his wartime take care of the injured mode. He called my family and followed up on a regular basis until I was safely out of the hospital and back in the flow. That was Coach Tighe. On the personal side, he was a mentor and a surrogate father to many throughout the years. Once you played for him, you were part of the Tighe School of Life regardless of your playing time on the field.
PEOPLE SKILLS: Coach Tighe knew how to recruit talent. In addition to getting the best suburban talent to come-out and buy-in to his program, he would make an added push to recruit kids that came from the inner city through the METCO program that were attending suburban Lexington. He was tough, fair, and respectful to all. His recruiting skills maintained the flow of great talent. He also recruited parents to learn the game on Wednesday nights through a class he taught. They were extremely appreciative of his gratuitous nature. When it came to competition, never once did Bill Tighe run up the score. He taught that you must respect your opponent and let them save face. Then, to entertain the families and community, he was known to play his banjo on special occasions.
STRATEGY: Coach Tighe was excellent at preparing for game plans for competition. His defenses were solid, tough, and hard hitting team based defenses. “Defense win games. They don’t score, we win.” He would vary basic 5-2 and 4-3 with schemes that would pressure quarterbacks while remaining very disciplined and play Man to Manand Cover 2 mostly in the secondary. However, his offense strategy was exceedingly innovative and creative and at times complex. This included a variety of formations, plays, methods, and skills. Coach ran the offense until they stopped us and then would deftly change formations and direction where he saw the opening, whether it be off-tackle, trap, pitch, dive, wedge, pass, counter, or QB option. But, he was clear with the team that if we didn’t hit, block, and tackle, we’d lose. You needed to be tough, know your assignments, and always play with a respectful, hard-working attitude. He used his best players on the field for special teams. He never gave an inch. His competitive advantage was that he was outstanding at making game-time adjustments. While coaching with Bill Tighe, I gave Coach a photo of us when I was captain of the team. It said, “To Coach Bill Tighe, The Greatest Field Commander in Football.” That photo stood on his side table for 30+ years I was told. It was placed near his photo of his first championship team when he and his team met President Kennedy at the White House in 1962.
PROCESS: Coach had high expectations of his teams. Playing for him was difficult at times, but he broke the game down into basic blocking, tackling, running, throwing, catching, and flawless execution. He would say things like, “You’re slower than slow. By the time you get to your block, it will be springtime in the Rockies,” or “You’re carrying that ball like a loaf of bread, you loafer!” He would break it down, chart it, and flow it out. He found ways to execute leanly, efficiently, and increase speed. “Hit someone! Eliminate wasted motions, and hold onto that ball,” he would say.
CULTURE TURNAROUND: The parents and greater community loved what Bill Tighe was about, and he turned a community that had never once won a title into championship caliber performance. In 1980, we had close to 15,000 fans when we played undefeated Woburn and then on Thanksgiving Day against Burlington. We won both games and ended up league champions for the first time. Coach Tighe turned around the culture of the team, the school, and the community. Later, he won further championships and incrementally changed student athletes’ lives one at a time for decades. He loved doing it.
Coach had the ability to deal with tragedy and move forward with a smile. Coach Tighe had the misfortune of losing two of his children, Billy and Steve and his devoted wife of many years Mary. He was deeply religious and went to church almost every day. He had a strong sense of humility and was revered by many.
My dad fought in World War II under Patton, and my mom was from that generation as well. Both of my parents had the utmost admiration and respect for Coach Tighe. To turn my mother from a football hater and into a fan is a feat that I believed would be impossible. After my mom attended Coach’s Wednesday night classes, he won her over. Many other parents were converted into football lovers as well. He went on and received several Hall of Fame inductions.
COACHING STAFF: Coach had some outstanding coaches that both played for him and became successful coaches, businessmen, and administrators in their own right. John “Sully” Sullivan, Joe Lopresti, Tony Porter, Dick Robat, Steve Sobeck, and Perry Verge were excellent teachers, and they all had a great sense of humor. Sully was a steel-man that later became a senior administrator. Tony became an Athletic Director and Dick became an administrator. Steve Sobeck was a businessman, who played for the Steelers. He escaped a North Korean POW prison, killing a guard, and running about 100 miles across the DMZ. Perry was a former player whose famous line was, “Don’t cheat your bodies fellas.” He kept us for what seemed like hours of painful stretching and drills. Joe was known for insane motivation tactics that fit into Coach Tighe’s mold of teaching, respect, and toughness. Former players, Phi Betta Kappa Boys, Scott Sidman via Cornell and Jay Skerry via Williams came back and coached as well. After my playing days at Tufts, I had the great opportunity to Coach as well with Bill Tighe.
SOME OF THE MANY LEADERS THAT COACH PRODUCED WHILE I WAS INVOLVED AS A PLAYER AND COACH:
1) Colonel Bob McLaughlin ended up in several tours of combat duty as an Army officer including Iraq and as Chief of Staff, US Forces, in Afghanistan.
2) Chris Kenney, through Holy Cross University became the Massachusetts Bar Association President.
3) Colonel Bob Colella ran B-52 bombing squadrons worldwide from Barksdale Air Force Base and elsewhere.
4) David “Degug” Deguglielmo who won Superbowls as a Professional Line Coach through his alma mater Boston University.
5) John Coughlin, a two-time state championship winning high school hockey coach via St. Lawrence.
6) Jeff Bussgang as a tech-entrepreneur and Professor, Tom Fernandes as a leader in construction, Cecil Cox in media, John “Ski” Brzezenski as an outstanding consultant, and Mike Murray as an exceptional lawyer all through Harvard.
7) Chief Retired(Concord, MA Police Department) Barry Neal through the Marines
8) Craig Caster, “the Master of Disaster” who ended-up through Hartnell Junior College to be a Senior Executive at Fidelity.
9) Plenty of “Full-Boat Boys” who gained full athletic scholarships. In addition to Justin, Jerry, and Chris, there was Business Entrepreneur “Geno” Mewborn through UCLA, US Marshall Tony Visalli via Springfield College, Financial Executive Ron Judkins through URI, Bill Mueller through BC, Teacher Bob Shelmire through UMass, Todd Stuckey through AIC, and Rashad Wilson through Georgetown(chose basketball of all things) are all Tighe School of Life graduates.
10) Some even came back to dedicate their service to their hometown: Paul Bates and Mark Bellino, Lexington, MA Fire Department deserve appropriate notice. Paul was a three sport athlete in High School and played Baseball at Northeastern. Mark was part of that great Heisman trophy winning family and have dedicated their efforts to their hometown and helping people in countless ways and at times saving lives. Former player and coach, Chuck Shaw dedicated himself to herding alumni cats and events while serving as the current long-time “voice of the Minuteman.”
IN SUM: Bill Tighe over-delivered on his value proposition, and ran his operations better than anyone I have ever met in my life. He won games, championships, and molded toughness, confidence, great leaders, and honorable civic servants of society. We lost a legend recently due to as Coach Tighe would remark “The Fortunes of War.” He was the longest serving high school football coach in history. His success, methods, and character made a great impact on this world and will be missed immensely.