Legendary coach Ed Nietopski dies: 'He cared about the person as much as the ballplayer'

Ed Nietopski, a widely loved and respected man who was a recognizable part of the Rochester sports scene for decades, died Monday at age 95.

The "Nipper," as he was called by many, began his legendary coaching career in 1955 after finishing his nine-year career in professional baseball as an infielder with the Rochester Red Wings. The high school basketball and baseball "ballclubs" he led won so many games that he is one of the most all-time winningest coaches in Section V history.

"Coach was a teacher and he was always a father-figure," 67-year old Glenn Hagan said. "He cared about the person just as much as the ballplayer."

Hagan, one of the best Rochester-area high school basketball players of all-time, lovingly refers to himself as Nietopski's "firstborn child."

The Section V Hall of Fame basketball player may be at the top of a very long list of admirers.

Ed Nietopski and Glenn Hagan talk during a basketball camp.
Ed Nietopski and Glenn Hagan talk during a basketball camp.

"I idolized Ed Nietopski," former Batavia Notre Dame boys basketball coach Mike Rapone told the Democrat and Chronicle in 2022. Rapone is Section V's all-time winningest boys basketball coach. "It was pretty special to have my name mentioned in the same breath as his."

Nietopski's baseball career was promising

After rising through the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system in a span of five years, Nietopski had an invitation to the team's spring training in 1950.

He came close to going north with Stan Musial and the rest of the Cardinals, but was the last player cut. A year later, he was drafted into military service.

But his reassignment to Triple-A Rochester, one of the most disappointing times in Nietopski's life, began turning into something far more special.

Eddie Nietopski poses with baseball legend Stan Musial at Braves Field in Boston in 1951
Eddie Nietopski poses with baseball legend Stan Musial at Braves Field in Boston in 1951

"Sure it was a blow," Nietopski told Democrat and Chronicle writer Leo Roth in 2013. "But it worked out to be the best thing that ever happened to me."

Rochester is where Nietopski met his wife, Betty. They were married for 72 years and have seven children, 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Nietopski's faith took his coaching career to Cardinal Mooney

Nietopski's coaching career began at Brockport, and he stayed at the public school for seven seasons.

"All of our children were born in Brockport," Betty said. "He went to college there, and while he was in college, (school district officials) knew his skills as a pro ballplayer and teaching. They put him right in."

But Ed, a son of Polish immigrants in Buffalo, "was a man of faith that never wavered," according to Betty.

"When he heard that they were building Cardinal Mooney he said. 'I want in there,' " Betty said. "He took a cut in pay, but we knew that. He was happy as a lark to go to work every day."

Nietoposki coached at Cardinal Mooney until it was announced that the Catholic school was closing in 1989. His next coaching stop would be at Bishop Kearney.

His devotion to his faith went beyond coaching.

He spent many years volunteering at Catholic institutions, often speaking of "the good Lord."

"Even to his last time, he shared (his faith)," Betty said. "He made more than 10,000 rosaries. We have about 60 left. He started in 2016 after he sort of retired.”

"Our family went through the invoices. We stopped counting. He carried them with him everywhere and asked, 'Are you Catholic by any chance?' and he would pull them out. He gave them out everywhere. The thing he missed most in the last six weeks was he couldn't get to Mass."

A special connection with the coach

Ed Nietopski coaches AJ White on the bench during a Bishop Kearney game in 2003.
Ed Nietopski coaches AJ White on the bench during a Bishop Kearney game in 2003.

Hagan, who lived off Clinton Avenue in Rochester, went to Cardinal Mooney at the start of the 1970s after spending his seventh- and eighth-grade seasons at Franklin.

Nietopski left Hagan off the varsity squad during the player's freshman year. After that, Mooney was the winner of two tournaments that were the equivalent of sectionals for Catholic schools, before becoming the first team at a private school to play in a Section V basketball tournament.

Nietopski's team won 67 of 74 games from 1970-74, Hagan said.

"Anyone who wanted to play us, we played,' Hagan said. “You had to be prepared to play and you were petrified, for he was renowned for full court pressing, the whole game. We played 100 feet.”

Playing on a team coached by Nietopski was a "learning experience," Hagan said.

"You learned to grow up," he said. "For me and Larry (Lane), it was different. We were Black, the only ones on the team. We had to go through that, and it wasn't as easy as it sounds. You are going out there and taking two white players' spots. He spoke up for us quite a few times. There were a couple of incidents and he had to chastise people, got up in their faces. Sometimes, just to get on the basketball court were tough times."

Hagan would eat his pre-game meals with the Nietopski family.

"It was grilled cheese, tomato soup and skim milk. Every time," Hagan said. "And I sat in the same seat every time.

"When I go over there, Betty says 'Aw, isn't that cute, he went to his seat.'"

'No-nonsense, but in a good way'

Kevin Goode is in his 10th year running the program at Bishop Kearney as the varsity coach and in his 21st season overall as a high school basketball coach,. Guess who suggested the 1996 Bishop Kearney graduate and three-year varsity basketball player give coaching a try?

"I did not want to coach; I never thought it would be in my future," Goode said. "When I came back from school (Wagner College), they had a freshman job opening. I showed up at the school, and he said, 'I told you it would be good for you.'"

Nietopski made it clear that players either followed his instructions or they would sit with him on the bench. Demanding respect was not a problem. Betty Nietopski said her husband was "no-nonsense, but in a good way."

“At the time, it was difficult to see what his message was," Goode said. "But during the season, everything always panned out to what he said. 'You guys will be rewarded, if you do this and this.' It seemed to pan out every single time.”

"He was serious but he always threw jokes in to break up the mood," Goode remembers. "You are practicing defense, and he's saying you have to move this way and get into the right stance. He would say, 'If you are out on a date and I show up and yell "Defense!" [I expect] you to get in a defensive stance.'"

Nietopski's coaching career highlights

Ed Nietopski gets a standing ovation from students and staff at Bishop Kearney in 2004 in the gymnasium named after him.
Ed Nietopski gets a standing ovation from students and staff at Bishop Kearney in 2004 in the gymnasium named after him.

New York State Public High School Athletic Association Basketball Hall of Fame.

Inducted into the Section V Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001 as part of the second group of entrants. He was still on the Bishop Kearney bench as the team's coach.

545 wins in 47 years as a high school basketball coach at Brockport, Cardinal Mooney and Bishop Kearney

7 Section V Boys Basketball championships

705 wins as a high school baseball coach at Brockport, Cardinal Mooney, including 4 Section V championships, in a span of 42 seasons.

2011: Nietopski is among the first members of the Section V Baseball of Fame.

72: The number of years he was married to wife Betty. They met on a blind date.

Arrangements for Ed Nietopski were forming on Tuesday, but there is no doubt that ceremonies will take place at Sacred Heart Cathedral.

This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Ed Nietopski, legendary high school coach in Rochester, dies at 95