After John Boyle won the Nassau III football championship in 1997, coaching Clarke to a victory over Wantagh, he joyfully and emotionally embraced his father, Jack, the school’s first coach who had come out of retirement to be one of his son’s assistants. That image depicted pure Clarke football royalty — the prince and the king on top of the world.
“That’s the happiest I’d ever seen him as a coach,” said Tim O’Malley, John Boyle’s childhood friend and longtime Clarke assistant coach. “He wasn’t happy for himself, but he was genuinely thrilled that he could share that moment with his father.”
Another longtime friend of Boyle’s, Tony Caiazza, said that game, the penultimate one Jack Boyle coached, “was a special moment for him. The baton had been passed.”
John Boyle, who died May 5 at 60 after a nearly five-month battle with pancreatic cancer, did not win another county championship during his 31-year coaching career at Clarke. But he shared and created countless special moments and a lifetime of memories with friends, families, coaching colleagues and players.
“John truly personified class as a coach and as a person,” said Roosevelt football coach Joe Vito, an opponent on the field and comrade in arms off the field as past presidents of the Nassau County Football Coaches Association. “He had a calm demeanor. He wasn’t a yeller and he was always under control. I had tremendous respect for him and his dad, another wonderful man and good football coach. When you think of Clarke football, you think of the Boyle family.”
Jack Boyle, who died in 2000, coached at Clarke from 1957 until 1973 and was his son’s assistant from 1987-99.
“You’re talking about the legacy of the Boyle family,” Caiazza said. It was, in some ways, an accidental legacy. John Boyle was in his second year of law school in Ohio when his father suffered a heart attack. “He came home and told me, ‘Tony, I’ve got to take care of my mom and dad.’ ”
So John Boyle gave up law school and became a teacher and, eventually, the football coach at his old high school, following in his father’s cleats. He coached from 1987 through last fall, winning 156 games and making 18 playoff appearances. “The program was in dire straits when John took over [in 1987]. John turned it around,” Caiazza said.
He did it by sticking with his father’s old-school wing-T formation, tweaking it through the years to include elements of the modern-day spread formations. Boyle was always about spreading around the praise, responsibilities and credit for whatever success the Rams achieved. “He let assistants handle a lot of the football strategy and decisions and he was always open-minded to new suggestions,” said O’Malley, who has been both an offensive and defensive coordinator for his friend. “He was always learning, always attending clinics and adapting to the modern game.”
O’Malley said Boyle was a champion of players who were not stars. That was evident in 2012 when he heralded the accomplishments of two hearing-impaired linemen, the Yodice brothers, who became key contributors.
“Each time we get a player like that, it’s an education for me,” Boyle told Newsday, referencing Clarke’s Nassau BOCES Program for Hearing and Vision Services. “Each case is different. Each kid is different.”
Boyle was different, too.
“What he enjoyed most was coaching the offensive line,” O’Malley said. “That’s what he researched and what he wanted to become an expert on. Those kids weren’t superstars but he wanted to make sure they got recognized. That was one of his greatest qualities — he made sure everyone on the team was treated equally and felt valued. The players respected that.”
Opposing coaches also respected Boyle. “He referred to them as co-workers, not adversaries,” O’Malley said. “Ultimately, we’re all about preparing young people to be better citizens. He wanted to serve the game the right way.”
Vito appreciated Boyle’s efforts on behalf of Nassau football coaches.
“He sold 50-50s [the fundraising raffle tickets], he was on all the committees and attended the coaching clinics,” Vito said. “Besides his coaching, one of his biggest legacies was starting the Jack Boyle Assistant Coach’s Award that we give out every year at our dinner. It is named for his father and recognizes the nameless guys in the background that we couldn’t do without. That’s typical of John.”
Vito said he visited Boyle a couple of weeks ago. “He had come to peace with what was inevitably going to happen. I wrote him a letter,” Vito related. “I called him the ultimate fighter. He never quit. He was courageous. That’s a great legacy, too.”