Note to Joe Paterno: This is how you walk away from a legendary coaching career with grace, whenever you decide to. On Sunday night, the oldest high school football coach in the country -- Lexington (Mass.) High's Bill Tighe -- announced he is finally walking away from the sport at age 86.
According to the Boston Globe and Boston Herald, Lexington made the decision official by telling Lexington athletic director Naomi Martin that he will retire after his team's 2010 finale, a Thanksgiving Day face-off against Burlington. When he walks away, Tighe will wrap up a career that has seen him coach high school football in Massachusetts for 62 years, starting as an assistant at Wakefield in 1949, before he had even finished earning his college diploma at Boston University, where he played football before pausing his education to serve in the Army Air Corps in World War II.
As one might expect, Tighe has accumulated a massive amount of victories (268) and, interestingly, nearly as many losses (232). He even has 13 ties, which dates him considerably since Massachusetts now uses overtime periods to break ties.
"It was [a hard decision]," Tighe told the Globe. "But, I'm old, although I don't feel old. I'm older than [Penn State coach] Joe Paterno [who is 83]. I feel young though. I still have great energy. My daughters have been after me to do more grandfather things.''
Tighe will have ample opportunities to fulfill those grandfather roles, since he has nine grandchildren and four great grandchildren already.
As the head coach at Lexington since 1974, Tighe has coached multiple generations of the same families. The Globe profiled one of those families earlier this fall, where a current Lexington High Minutemen player is among his family's third generation to be coached by Tighe.
If there was any need for a litmus test on just how significant Tighe is to football in the state of Massachusetts, one need only consider this startling fact: the coach is a member of eight different sports hall of fames. Eight.
"I like to say that Bill is 86 years young. He's probably forgotten more football than most of us will ever know," Woburn coach Rocky Nelson, who has coached against Tighe since 1975, told the Herald. "He's an inspiration, he's still full of energy and enthusiasm. He's been a great ambassador for high school football."
Tighe's athletic director said he's been a great ambassador for more than just football.
"You know how fortunate you are to have Bill working for you and with you," Martin said. "He's been such a beloved institution in Lexington. And it has nothing to do with the Xs and Os. There's this human connection with Bill. It's who he is as a person that is his greatest quality. Few people have the human grace, dignity, and class that Bill Tighe has.''
For his part, Tighe said he'll miss working with high school students on a daily basis more than anything else.
"The curtain has to come down some time,'' Tighe told the Globe. "It really is tough because I love kids and I love all the associations I've had over the years. Every year you meet different kids with different personalities. What I appreciate the most is seeing them come back.''
There's little doubt he'll spend time watching those students at games in the future, too, though it might take awhile for the legendary coach to adjust to the view from the stands instead of the sideline.