As students, family and former players of Vince O’Connor flocked to St. Francis Prep for his funeral service on Thursday, they remembered the legendary football coach and devoted family man with messages of gratitude for all he had done for others in his life.
Several hundred mourners filled the school auditorium in Fresh Meadows where the funeral was held for O’Connor, who died on Feb. 14 at the age of 85, while still head coach of the St. Francis Prep football team, a post he held for 62 years.
“It’s no secret that coach was one of the biggest influences on me going into my career of coaching,” said Kyle Flood, who is the head coach of the Rutgers University football team. “Saying that someone lived their life like Vince O’Connor is probably the highest honor I could ever give to them.”
The funeral mass took place in St. Francis Preparatory School’s auditorium on Thursday morning. Eulogies said by Flood and O’Connor’s son, Martin, highlighted the life of a man who served both his immediate family and larger network of family that he gained from coaching at the school for 62 years.
Martin started the eulogy of his father with a scene most players remember from being on the field with the late coach. He had a yellow pad attached to a clipboard and blew a coach’s whistle and said, “Varsity line up!” just as his father would do.
He proceeded to take the crowd through the life of his father, not only as a coach but as a father and family man. Upon his ending remarks, the hundreds in attendance gave a standing ovation commemorating the life of O’Connor.
As the casket was being led out of the school, current football players and coaches lined the hallway and sang the St. Francis Terrier fight song as a final tribute for all O’Connor had done for the football program at the school.
During his storied career, O’Connor amassed more than 300 victories to be among the top two winningest football coaches in state history. His teams have won 16 CHSFL titles, including 14 at the highest level, and he has coached nine players who went on to the NFL.
But his greatest legacy may be the tight-knit community that he helped build around the school and his football program. With rare exceptions, all of his assistant coaches over the years have come from the ranks of his former players.
O’Connor, friends said, never intended to retire despite his age.
“I enjoy what I do. It’s as simple as that,” he said in a published report two years ago.
Under Coach O’Connor, the Terriers posted undefeated seasons in 1957, 1964, 1966, 1972, 1973 and 1983. In 1992, he was honored as National Coach of the year.
O’Connor was named New York’s Catholic High School Coach of the Year 20 times and has served as president of the CHSFL. He was selected in 2000 for the Frank McGuire Foundation Award, which recognizes high school coaches for their positive impact on students.