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Legendary football coach Vince O’Connor dies at 85

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New York City has lost a coaching legend.

St. Francis Prep football coach Vince O’Connor died Saturday morning at his daughter’s home in Floral Park at the age of 85, according to the school’s athletic director, Sal Fischetti.

“It’s awful,” Fischetti said. “This is the death of a legend here.”

O’Connor, a Park Slope native, just completed his 62nd season coaching at the school, and his 61st as varsity coach. He won 341 games during his career — good enough for second place in New York State behind the 364 by Howie Vogts of Bethpage.

O’Connor had been gradually handing over the coaching reins to assistant head coach Rich Carroll, who said O’Connor finally started cutting back last season. He made all the games and about 90 percent of practices, after rarely missing any in more than six decades at the helm.

The storied coach’s health had declined sharply in the last two weeks, according to Fischetti. The news of his passing hit the St. Francis Prep community and football family hard as it spread Saturday morning.

“I think one of the things that makes this a big issue is that he’s been there so long, nobody thought he’d not be there,” Carroll said.

O’Connor played his high school football at Manual Training, now Secondary Schools for Law, Journalism and Research. He began coaching in 1953, when St. Francis Prep was on North 6th street in Brooklyn and Harry Truman was President of the United States. He was one of the founders of the Catholic High School Football League. When he wasn’t coaching, O’Connor taught in numerous Brooklyn high schools, including Manual Training, George Westinghouse and Tilden.

He won a record 16 Catholic High School Football League titles, including 14 at the highest classification. He has coached nine pros, four Walter Camp All-Americans, and coaches such as former Jets and Giants offensive coordinator Dan Henning, Rutgers headman Kyle Flood, C.W. Post head coach Bryan Collins, and retired Chaminade coach Bill Basel. St. Francis Prep’s multi-million dollar training center is named after him.

“He’s a tremendous coach and a tremendous man,” said Holy Cross football coach Tom Pugh. “He did so much for so many people. One of the class guys.”

“Mr. O’Connor was a special guy, in my life and lives of countless of other people who had the opportunity to play for him,” Flood said.

O’Connor is survived by his wife Mary, his son Martin, his daughter Mary Rose, and four grandchildren.

Vince O’Connor’s wake will be held in the St. Francis Prep auditorium (6100 Francis Lewis Blvd. in Queens) on Feb. 17 and 18 from 2–5 pm and 7–9 pm each day. The funeral will be at the school on Feb. 19 at 10:30 am.

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Reader feedback

Keith Merriman from Brownsville native says:
I was the head football coach at Thomas Jefferson High School from 1987-2008. The constant during that period, and at the time I played football at Tech (1969-71), was Vinnie O'Connor at St. Francis.
We scrimmaged against St. Francis as a player and as a coach.
He was the consumate teacher and gentleman, actually the guy who I went to for advice before I took the Jefferson job. A great man. He will be missed.
Feb. 17, 2015, 10:31 am

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