It was 1971. Then Methuen High track coach Ernie Perry was looking for a new assistant coach when football/track coach Ed Kissell left for a new job.
Kissell recommended a 21-year-old by the name of Bill Blood.
“Bill said, ‘Mr. Perry, I’ve never coached track but I’m going to be the best at it.’ It turned out he was,” recalled Perry.
Blood, who was inducted into the Methuen High Hall of Fame in December of 2011, died Wednesday at age 63 at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton following a brief illness.
While he enjoyed considerable success as a baseball and track coach at Methuen High, Blood often worked behind the scenes as an assistant coach or a youth coach or as one of the best clinicians the area has ever seen.
But several of the top names in the area coaching community agreed he was a rare breed. When they had a coaching question, it was Blood they often consulted first.
Best in the state
“Bill was probably the most superior coach in the state of Massachusetts,” said Perry, who coached track with Blood for most of the next 40 years at Lawrence High, Methuen High and Phillips Academy.
“He attended every clinic imaginable in track and baseball. He wanted to know every aspect of the sport.”
Methuen High baseball coach Eric Cyr was devastated by the news. Blood assisted Cyr last spring.
“He was part of the family,” said Cyr, choking back tears. “When I first met him, I was 11. I was at the Neal Playstead with my dad. He comes walking out of left field. I didn’t know who he was. He drafted me first in Babe Ruth, not because I was the best player but because he saw I loved the game. He coached me in Lions and Babe Ruth and Legion.”
Cyr and Blood were a natural fit. Two guys who couldn’t get enough of baseball. He recalls Blood tirelessly working with a group of youngsters in the late ‘80s who became some of the best ever from Methuen: Cyr, Robbie Aziz, Kevin Carpenito and Greg Coppeta.
“If you loved the game and got after it, there was no better coach than Billy Blood,” said Cyr. “Out of the blue, he’d hit two hours with us.”
He was like an eccentric inventor, always tinkering to perfect the latest theory or gadget.
The source may have been a coach in Dracut or a coaching philosophy coming out of East Germany. It’s a safe bet that no local coach ever spent as much time in the library or playing and replaying how-to tapes.
“He was a genius when it came to baseball and practicing baseball,” said Cyr. “He was able to come up with drills off the top of his head and competitions. He made it fun. He was creative. He wasn’t easy to play for. He was serious.”
Time and time again coaches related stories of when they were at their wit’s end, they’d seek out Blood.
Perry’s son, E.J., the Andover High football coach, has won a slew of Coach of the Year honors in football, volleyball and basketball.
But he said there was only one Bill Blood.
“He knew more about any sport than I did,” said Perry. “My father would always say, ‘Coach Blood noticed this about your team. Give him a call and straighten it out.’ I always called. He always corrected the problem.”
When Perry started coaching Little League baseball, he was apprehensive because he hadn’t played much baseball growing up.
“He was the first guy I called,” he said. “He’d go to every practice. He gave me drills. He showed me how to handle pitchers and catchers.”
At one point in his all-star pitching career at UMass Lowell, Cyr was struggling mightily. He sought out Blood, who was a three-sport athlete at Tenney High in Methuen.
“He met me at lunch and we worked on mechanics,” said Cyr. “He’d do anything for you. He’d make time for you.”
Blood learned about public service from his mother, Charlotte Blood. For 29 years he helped run the popular Bruce Blood Memorial Basketball Tournament, which was named after his late brother.
Steve Saba of the Methuen Basketball Association was also heavily involved in the tourney.
“People just jumped up wanting to help,” said Saba. “He was extremely respected.”
Saba was coaching in Methuen East Little League 4-5 years ago and Blood volunteered to help out.
“It was like a clinic,” marvelled Saba. “He taught those kids so much. He also taught the coaches so much. We ended up winning the championship. It was the most incredible experience.”
Ernie Perry said, “He had people calling him all the time to give individual coaching. He’d go no matter what high school it was.”
Cyr said he was blessed to have him as a confidant.
“Even last year, he absolutely had the fire,” he said. “He was the same guy he was coaching me 20 years ago.”
He passed the love of the sport and the “you can do whatever you want” attitude on to his stepson Jason Larocque.
Blood delighted in telling the story how people scoffed that Jason would even think of applying to Harvard. He got in, starred on the field and in the classroom, had a memorable run as the Red Sox bullpen catcher and now is the highly-decorated head coach at prestigious St. Albans School in Washington, D.C.
Veteran Central Catholic baseball coach Marc Pelletier was among the legion of fans the wisecracking Blood had in the region.
“Billy was a terrific master of the mechanics of the sport,” said Pelletier, who coached Larocque at Central Catholic. “He had a keen eye for breaking down individual aspects of baseball and track and field. He loved to teach from the ground up. The baseball world, the track and field world and the PE world lost a good one in Billy Blood.”
Follow Michael Muldoon on Twitter under the screen name @MullyET.