Patrick Simmons remembered the first time he met Al Fracassa.
It was 1969. A muscular young man walked up to Simmons with the look of a Marine sergeant.
“He asked me to help unload some boxes off a truck,” Simmons said Tuesday afternoon. “I was on my lunch hour, but I said OK.
“They were the first helmets with the Indian logo on them. I was putting them in a room, and he told me I wasn’t doing it right. He said if I was going to do something, do it right. I always remembered that, and to this day I always try to do things right the first time.”
Simmons was in the Class of 1973, and his four brothers played football at Birmingham Brother Rice for Fracassa: Bob finished in 1970, Terry was a high school All-America in 1976, Tim finished in 1977, Mike in 1980.
Simmons, a USA Today manager in Detroit, was on hand to honor Fracassa as he received the American Family Insurance All-USA team 2013 coach of the year award. The Warriors also were honored for finishing as the 11th-ranked team in the nation in the Ford F-Series Super 25.
Respectful, dedicated, tough, loyal and caring were words used to describe Fracassa, 81, who retired after the season and received the award in front of the football team and a couple of administrators.
“This is a tremendous honor,” Fracassa said. “We’ve had some great boys here. They’ve worked hard.
“I’m going to miss coaching. I’ll still be around. I’ll come to the games. It has been an honor to coach these young men. I have 13 boys from this year’s team that are going to play college football.”
Alex Malzone, the team’s junior quarterback who led the Warriors to their third consecutive Division 2 title and a 14-0 record last season, said the pleasure was being able to be around Fracassa.
“After this last state title we were finishing up talking to the media, and Coach thanked us,” Malzone said. “I was like, why are you thanking us? He has been more than a coach to me. He has been a father figure and someone I look up to. It was an honor to play for him.”
Fracassa coached for 57 years, 45 at Rice, compiling a 430-117-7 record. His win total is the most in Michigan high school football history and seventh nationally.
He sent more than 300 players to college and 13 to the NFL. He won nine state titles at Rice, and the team currently is on a 22-game winning streak.
Fracassa posted his first undefeated season in 1974. Ten players from that team played at a Division I school.
“We didn’t have the playoffs back then, but nobody could touch us that year,” Fracassa said with a smile. “It’s a lot of fun coaching. We’ve won a lot, but we lost our share. If you’re going to coach, you’re going to have to have some hardships sometimes. We had some kids that came out better after they finished here.”
When asked if players have changed over the years, he said no.
“They are the same,” he said. “I’ve been coaching for 57 years, and they have the same things Paul Seymour had when I had him at (Royal Oak) Shrine, the All-American at the University of Michigan. When you work hard and when you love something, you’re going to be good at it. It’s as simple as that.”