It was early Saturday morning and Brent Caprio was already in the office.
The 2009 Mainland High School graduate is a scouting assistant for the Indianapolis Colts and was continuing to prepare for this weekend’s game against Tampa Bay.
When asked if he had a few minutes to talk about his old high school coach, Bob Coffey, the former All-South Jersey quarterback immediately took a timeout.
“He’s a living legend to me,” Caprio said.
“It’s more than just X’s and O’s with him. He truly cares about you as a person, cares about your development. He was not afraid to tell you that he loved you, that he was proud of you. And if he was disappointed, he would tell you, too.”
After 30 years as Mainland’s head coach, Coffey, 60, retired following a 27-25 victory over Egg Harbor Township on Thanksgiving. Mike Juliano’s 42-yard field goal with just under four minutes to play proved to be the difference.
“It was a stressful game,” Coffey said. “I’m thinking the whole time, ‘does it have to be this hard?’ But it was a great game and to go out that way, I’m very fortunate.”
A pillar of strength not only within the football program but in the community as well, Coffey closed a sensational career with a record of 187-116-2 – good for 13th on South Jersey’s all-time list of coaching victories.
Coffey directed the Mustangs to South Jersey championships in 1996, 1997, 2002 and 2008. They defeated Woodrow Wilson in Camden for the 1995 Group 3 title but would later have to vacate the championship after it was ruled they used an ineligible player.
“It’s been a grind, but really fun,” said Coffey, a Holy Spirit graduate who went on to play at Clemson. “It was a lot of hard work and dedication, but well worth it.
“I loved every minute of it. It’s something I’ll never forget. Being a head coach is so demanding. Every day had something to do with football. It was such a commitment and was tough to continue at a high level.”
Coffey plans to continue teaching science at Mainland and would love to stay involved as an assistant coach.
“Without hesitation or reservation, he is one of the best people I’ve ever worked with,” said Mainland athletic director Mike Gatley. “He was a complete professional. I’ve had a terrific relationship with him since Day 1 and I’m a better AD for having the opportunity to work with Bob. It was an enjoyable run.
“You look at the wins and losses, and there were plenty of wins, but he is and was Mainland football. That’s as big a legacy as anything else.”
Coffey said he’d like to be remembered as “a hard worker and someone who wanted the best for our community and the kids.”
“It’s been my life,” he said.
Through all of his success, the 2011 season may have been one of his finest.
The Mustangs went just 5-5 that year, but Coffey had much more on his table. That season was more than devising game plans against Cape-Atlantic teams like Atlantic City, St. Augustine or Ocean City.
The Mainland community lost four players in a car crash after a preseason practice. It was Coffey who helped everyone deal with the tragedy.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my life,” he recalled. “It was so complicated in so many ways. My life really slowed down, started to go minute-to-minute.”
Said Gatley: “The unfortunate incident in 2011 … That speaks volumes to Bob’s strength and what he meant to the program. He kept the program together and the community was a big part of it.
“What he’s done stretches way beyond the football field.”
From triumph to tragedy, and everything in between, it’s been a quite a memorable ride.
“He was so well-respected. You wanted to play for him and do well for him,” Caprio said. “When you came off the field and had success, you’d get a big hug from Coach Coffey. That made it all the sweeter.”
Kevin Minnick; (856) 486-2424; email@example.com
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