Howie Vogts, the legendary football coach at Bethpage High School for the past 56 years, died yesterday. Vogts, the winningest high school coach in state history with 364 victories, was 80 years old.
Known as "Coach" to all in the Bethpage community, Vogts died of congestive heart failure at Mercy Hospital in Rockville Centre. He had been in the hospital since July 3.
"He was so much more than just a football coach," said Richie Millet, an assistant coach with Vogts for more than 20 years. "He was an icon. And his legacy will be about the way in which he touched so many lives and bonded a community. This was a special man who through the game of football was able to reach out and energize people."
Vogts was a three-sport star athlete at Sewanhaka High School and graduated in 1948. At 6-4, 235 pounds, he excelled in football, basketball and baseball. He played football at Emporia State College in Kansas before transferring to Adelphi after his freshman year.
According to his nephew, Bob Burton, Vogts met his future wife, Carolyn Foley, a cheerleader, on the Adelphi football field. They were married for 28 years before she died in 1985.
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"He just adored her and felt she was one of those untouchable clean-cut girls that would never date a tough guy like him," Burton said with a laugh. "And they had it all. But she couldn't have children and I believe that's why Howie treated every one of his football players like they were his own."
Vogts founded the Bethpage football program in 1952 at the age of 21. In 1954, Bethpage became a full-fledged varsity program and earned the school's first win on Oct. 2, beating Wantagh, 20-7. Vogts would be the only coach the Golden Eagles would know for 56 years (1953-2009), with the exception of 1966, when he was on sabbatical and worked as an assistant coach at Michigan State.
"He's like a grandfather to everyone in Bethpage," said Mike Caulfield, who played for Vogts and graduated in 1991. "He related athletics to life and taught us how to be men. He is the patriarch of the Bethpage football family."
Vogts became the winningest coach in state history with 288 victories when Bethpage defeated Glen Cove, 16-15, in the Nassau Conference III final at Hofstra in 2000. He went on to compile a record of 364-124-10, which included 30 playoff appearances in 40 years. Vogts' teams won 35 regular-season conference championships, 16 conference playoff titles, three Rutgers Cups and five Long Island titles. The Golden Eagles were 3-6 last season.
"He was the best man at my wedding and I was the best man at his wedding," Larry Graziose said. "We're best friends for 61 years. He created this Bethpage family. His door was always open to these kids in our community for anything they needed. He's coached fathers and then their sons for three generations."
A stream of former players, coaches and community leaders converged on Vogts' open door on Evelyn Drive throughout the past week to reminisce, console and pay tribute to the "Father of Bethpage football.''
Vogts is survived by his sister, Margaret Burton, and his niece, Deb Burton.
Funeral details are pending, but a service to be held on the Bethpage football field is being planned.