North Hills legend calls it a career
Icon, champion, legend, you can take your pick when you try to sum up the coaching career of the man who patrolled the sidelines of North Hills football for the past 35 years.
Jack McCurry put together a career most coaches only dream of, and last week, he said it was time to hand the reins over to someone else.
In 395 career games at North Hills, McCurry won 281 games, earned 13 conference championship titles and shared one other. McCurry had the No. 1 team in the WPIAL four times (1982, '85, '87 and '93), the No. 1 team in the state in '93 and the No. 1 team in the nation in '87.
All those accolades are great, but what really touched the coach were the calls that came in since he announced his retirement.
“I am getting a lot of calls and messages from players, some from all the way back in the 70s,” McCurry said. “I cherish that the most, because they took the time to call and say thanks.”
McCurry also noted two other memories from his career: the 1993 PIAA title game, in which he chose to go for the two-point conversion and the 15-14 win over Central Bucks; and the 1987 team ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Pat Carey was a member of that '87 team and later ran McCurry's defense, a role he held through the coach's last season.
“The one thing Jack never lost was his competitive edge,” Carey said. “Jack always had the ability and the foresight to adjust and relate to his players. In 1985 and '86, we tied for the WPIAL championship and lost by one when he decided to go for two against Gateway. In 1987, he spread things out and went away from the wishbone offense, and we were more dynamic.
“Another thing about that '87 team, the starting defense didn't allow a point all season.”
Carey said he will always be grateful for the opportunities he had with McCurry.
“To have played for him, and for him to bring me back as an assistant. His preparation, time commitment and attention to detail was second to none,” Carey said.
With football being a huge part of McCurry's life for the past 50 years, he said it has not sunk in completely that this season will be his first as a spectator.
“I still have a lot of energy, but it was time to let someone else pick up the reins,” McCurry said. “I wanted to do it at a time where North Hills could find a quality replacement. I hope everything works out.”
McCurry's quarterback on the 1993 PIAA title team was Eric Kasperowicz, and together they rallied the Indians from a 14-0 deficit with five minutes left in regulation of the state championship game.
“A big thing about Jack is that he instilled confidence,” Kasperowicz said. “(The 1993 team) was a special group of kids, but Jack made us believe we couldn't be beat. His leadership, his direction, was how we knew we had a chance.
“He was the kind of coach you would do anything for ... run through a brick wall. As players, we gave all we had.”
McCurry was more than a coach, according to Dr. Patrick J. Mannarino, superintendent at North Hills in a statement released by the district.
“Jack McCurry is an institution at North Hills School District. Thousands of student athletes and coaches have benefited from his leadership, and through him, learned lessons of determination, perseverance and integrity, both on and off the football field. I never imagined a day that our football program would be led by someone other than Jack McCurry. He will be missed.”
One of the student athletes is former quarterback Ryan Lehmeier, who played for McCurry for four years. Lehmeier and McCurry engineered a couple of playoff appearances and a great deal of wins.
“Coach McCurry has not just influenced me but how many kids?” Lehmeier said. “He held every kid accountable and treated us all the same whether you were the top guy or didn't play. He had high expectations for me and made me have high expectations for myself.”
Lehmeier said McCurry was often the first person he would talk to each day and was always the first he spoke with after a game.
“During my junior and senior year, it was like I knew what he was thinking. He had confidence in me, and I would do anything for him.”
North Hills athletic director Dan Cardone could not speak to one moment in particular that captured McCurry. But he said every Friday night was a tradition at North Hills.
“There were so many lighter moments that people didn't see, like when I would go down to practice and see him kidding around with the kids,” Cardone said. “I think he really enjoyed the preparation. He was really innovative and always adapted to his players. That is something that was a real strength of his.”
Cardone also noted McCurry's will to win and how he would go for two rather than roll the dice in overtime.
“Most of the time he got it,” Cardone said. “The kids bought into what he taught him. He was a great teacher of the game of football. I don't think people saw the amount of preparation he put in.”
Kasperowicz shared Cardone's thoughts on the courage McCurry seemed to have in clutch situations, something that accounted for much of his success.
“We always went for two,” Kasperowicz said. “His mentality that we couldn't be beat rubbed off on us. I'll bet he went for two (and the win) 20 times, and I bet the team made it 17 of those times.”
Carey, Kasperowicz and Lehmeier coached under McCurry after playing for him. They said they owe a lot to the legendary coach, and none could say enough about him as a mentor and a person.
“Playing quarterback for him was not the easiest thing to do, but it was the best thing I ever had the chance to do,” Lehmeier said.
Jerry Clark is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-779-6979 or firstname.lastname@example.org.