DERRY, N.H. — It was 35 years ago when Brian O’Reilly made the most of an opportunity which would have overwhelmed nearly anyone else in the same situation.
It also launched one of the legendary coaching careers in Granite State history.
Pinkerton head coach Roger Dube purchased a business late in what was going to be his final season. So he resigned and headmaster Brad Ek appointed O’Reilly, a fourth-year history teacher/assistant coach, the interim head football coach.
“I don’t know if, in a normal situation, you let a 25-year-old be coach,” said O’Reilly. “It was me or Donny Coller.”
It turns out, those were two young coaches destined for big things. Coller went on to coach for 12 years at Purdue and is nearing his 100th win as a high school coach in Indiana.
O’Reilly, naturally, didn’t change a thing.
Except the entire offense!
“We lost to Laconia (in the first game),” he said. “I had one week to prove myself. I did what you’re probably not supposed to do. I changed the offense to the Wing-T. We went to play Division 1 Dover and won 14-7.”
Eagle-Tribune All-Star offensive lineman Don Hazelton and standout linebackers Wayne Hill and Mike Boyle led the way for the Division 2 Astros, when the school was only a fraction of its current massive enrollment of about 3,200 students.
O’Reilly said, “It was a big win. I don’t remember it anymore. It was like a different life.”
It has been a different life since as he’s earned a reputation as a rare two-sport legend. That win must have clinched the deal as Ek and AD Wes Root later gave him the full-time job.
He’s now the second winningest coach in state history with a brilliant 264-103 record and 10 Division 1 titles. Plymouth’s Chuck Lenahan, who is retiring after this season, leads with a 350-69-1 record.
Including the years before lacrosse was an NHIAA-sanctioned sport, O’Reilly boasts a 453-130 mark with nine titles in 32 years in that sport. Not too bad for somebody who didn’t even know how to hold a stick before he got to Pinkerton!
O’Reilly has reached a slew of milestones but the one from last Saturday was a little different.
It had nothing to do with his historic success at Pinkerton.
No, this milestone was a birthday. Believe it or not — and if you didn’t know better, you’d never believe it — it was his 60th.
O’Reilly can easily pass for his late 40s. And no cracks that O’Reilly doesn’t like to pass!
“Traumatic? Not at all,” he said of his 60th. “It doesn’t bother me at all.”
He received his big gift the next day he when he guided the Astros to their 14th straight win over archrival Londonderry.
Don’t expect the big wins to end any time soon. When asked if he might coach another 10 years, the NHIAA Hall of Famer said, “I plan on it. I don’t know if I’d go beyond that.”
The gaudy numbers belie the journey. Football was never even his No. 1 sport. O’Reilly, who moved from New York City to working-class New Bedford when he was 8, said he was a starter in football at Bishop Stang High but was more known as a track standout.
“I think I won two medals at the (EMass.) Class C Meet,” said O’Reilly, who went on to become a two-time track captain at Bridgewater State.
The Windham resident’s biggest wins, however have come away from the field. He and his wife, Ina, a fifth-grade teacher at Derry’s Grinnell School, have three successful children.
Erin is a partner in a New York City law firm. Patrick, a star goalie for his father who later played at Middlebury, works in the IT department at Pinkerton. Megan was a two-time Eagle-Tribune lacrosse MVP who earned a scholarship to BU. She’s a schoolteacher in Wellesley, Mass.
Follow Michael Muldoon on Twitter under the screen name @MullyET.