Jack Curran dies
When former players, opponents and those close to high school sports spoke of him upon learning of his death Thursday at 83, wins and titles didn't matter. They all spoke of the coach who spent the last half century helping players — and not just those at his school — get scholarships to college.
"He was one of the true saints in scholastic sports," said Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame coach Lou Carnesecca, whom Curran succeeded at Molloy. "I can't think of anyone with a better record for two sports than Jack. His records will always stand and be tough to break. However, it's what he did for kids that was more important and not necessarily just athletes from Molloy but from the New York area."
Curran had been weakened by lung and kidney problems and underwent dialysis three days a week the past few years but rarely missed a day at school, let alone a game or practice.
He broke his kneecap last month when he slipped on ice while on his way to church. The mishap did not prevent him from attending church that day. He said in a private conversation Wednesday he was looking forward to getting on the baseball field as soon as his knee healed.
"He was a hard worker and worked his team very hard," Archbishop Molloy President Richard Karsten said. "He had the respect of so many young players and the older players would come back to see him."
Those former players included some of New York City's biggest names in high school basketball — 1972 Olympian Kevin Joyce, Brian Winters, Kenny Smith, Kenny Anderson and Russ Smith, who was playing for Louisville on Thursday night in the Big East quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden.
Anderson, who went on to play at Georgia Tech and in the NBA, tweeted: "I lost my favorite coach, mentor and just a great soul Jack Curran you will be missed, I will have you in my thoughts everyday I live Thank U."
New York Mets outfielder Mike Baxter played for Curran from 2000 to 2002. He remembered the coach not only as an "incredible storyteller" but someone who always had his players' interests at heart.
"He was the most selfless man I knew," Baxter said from spring training in Port St. Lucie, Fla. "He was so faithful and he just cared so much about the kids on his team, both on and off the court and the field. It really separated him, whether you were playing for him as a junior or senior or whether you were in college or looking for jobs, he would make sure to help you anyway he could. That never stopped to the last day."
The praise extended far beyond the big leagues.
"I'm not sure in my life there is anybody who has more of an impact on my life than Mr. Curran," said Whitey Rigsby, a member of Molloy's city championship basketball teams in 1973 and 1974. "I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that."
Rigsby was raised a Protestant but encouraged by Curran to attend the Catholic high school.
"There were 1,599 Catholics and me," said Rigsby, who went on to play at Villanova and still works in athletic development at the school. "I have five sons and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't quote something Mr. Curran told me 40 years ago. That will never change."
His teams won five city championships in basketball and 17 in baseball. No other New York City coach has ever won a title in both sports in the same year, Curran did it four times — 1969, 1973, 1974 and 1987. His record was 972-437 in basketball and 1,708-523 in baseball.
"Those marks will never be broken," Karsten said.
Karsten lauded Curran for focusing not just on a player's athletic ability but on his "mind, body and spirit" as well. Howard Garfinkel, the longtime high school scouting guru, called Curran "a giant."
"He was without question the greatest two-sport high school coach in the history of sports," Garfinkel said.
St. John's athletic director emeritus Jack Kaiser, one of the founders of the Big East, knew Curran since they played baseball together at St. John's.
"Coach Jack Curran was by far one of the most wonderful gentlemen I ever knew," he said. "Not only was he tremendously hard working and successful, but he cared deeply about the well-being of the young men that he coached."
Molloy athletic director Mike McCleary, who worked with Curran for 15 years, said the coach "carried himself with class."
"He taught everybody how to behave by example," he said.
Curran is the only high school coach in the New York state Hall of Fame in both basketball and baseball, Karsten said. He is the only coach to be selected national coach of the year in two different sports.
He was honored as CHSAA Coach of the Year 25 times in baseball, 22 times in basketball and won city championships in three different decades. Curran has been elected into nine different Halls of Fame, including the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame
Curran, who lived in Rye, N.Y., played minor league baseball for the Dodgers and Phillies.
"He always said he learned how to play baseball the right way in his years with the Dodgers," Carnesecca said. "That speaks for itself."