By: Mark Behan – High School Sports Reporter – February 15, 2013
He’s back! And we are not talking Arnold Schwarzenegger and his next Terminator movie.
John Rafferty is back as North Andover High’s head football coach – nearly two weeks after being fired by Principal Dr. Carla Scuzzarella and Athletic Director Jon Longley on Jan. 25.
North Andover residents and football supporters are happier than Super-Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens fans to have “Raff” back – as well they should be.
But can someone please explain why the classy 12-year coach was not rehired in the first place but instead made to look like Charlie Brown landing flat on his back after Lucy pulled the football away just as he attempted to kick it?
Scuzzarella and Longley not only fumbled the old pigskin on Jan. 25, but have made Bill “It is what it is” Belichick seem as loquacious as David Letterman when it comes to disseminating information on the issue with their we-don’t-comment-on-personnel-matters mantra.
Rafferty, who has an 81-49 record at North Andover, was reportedly fired because he didn’t follow school protocol when disciplining two football players involved in underage drinking last fall.
I don’t know if the disciplined players’ self-esteem was damaged or their families were embarrassed more than the Patriots were in their second-half performance against the Ravens in the AFC title game. And if that is the case – good – and I hope they learned a lesson. But it seems a specious reason not to rehire Rafferty, who by all accounts represents everything you’d want in a high school coach.
“I was so impressed by him in the interview,” said Terry Holland, a member of the interview committee that hired Rafferty a dozen or so years ago. “I felt this is the guy I wanted my kids to play for.
From the perspective of a longtime high school coach – yours truly – this is the ultimate compliment.
It’s a sentiment which, based on the amazing show of support Rafferty received from the community after he was fired, is shared by legions.
This overwhelming support was evidenced by a Facebook Page (“Support Coach Rafferty”), signs dotting the town (“Bring Back Raff”), and pro-Rafferty petitions (signed by hundreds). A School Committee meeting turned into an extremely respectful pro-Raff event attended by about 200 people, including current and former Scarlet Knight padded gladiators as well as parents and North Andover football fans who spoke glowingly of the coach.
“He is quite a guy on and off the football field. A class act,” said Holland, of Rafferty who has been coaching since 1987 and whose squad finished 4-6 this past season – its first as a member of the Merrimack Valley Conference. Holland was the former North Andover Booster Club president and owns Stachey’s Pizza in North Andover and Salem, NH.
“There didn’t seem to be any basis (for firing him),” said Michael Laorenza, who spoke at the School Committee meeting and whose youngest son was a captain of the 2011 North Andover football team. Laorenza owns an insurance company in North Andover.
“He was more than a coach to so many of the guys, and the kids were devastated when he was not rehired. The kids really made the difference (in getting him rehired); they represented Raff by the way they presented themselves at that school committee meeting. They were respectful and came dressed up to the meeting like it was game day.”
Laorenza said several former Rafferty players currently coach with him on the North Andover staff.
“That’s a huge sign of respect and loyalty,” Laorenza said.
“Respect” and “loyalty” – those are words not often associated with a coach who was fired for trying to instill some discipline into a program that at times lacked it before he arrived at North Andover.
When he is not shepherding North Andover’s student-athletes, Rafferty, 59, of Reading, works as a full-time senior case worker at the Billerica House of Correction. Rafferty is like a “guidance counselor” in working with the inmates, Holland said.
His former boss, Jim Cain, said Rafferty took his job seriously, was excellent in helping inmates formulate discharge plans and excelled in setting behavioral limits.
“John worked really well with the young inmates,” said Cain, who called Rafferty an excellent role model.
A former football captain at Syracuse University, Rafferty is regarded as the best football player in Wakefield High history. He was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 1994. A 1971 graduate, he led the undefeated 1970 Warriors team to the Middlesex League Championship and was named an All-Scholastic by the Boston newspapers.
Rafferty became head coach at North Andover in 2001 and is credited with turning a then-struggling program around. He steered the Scarlet Knights to Cape Ann League Championships in 2005 and 2010, and a co-championship in 2006. His fellow coaches named him Cape Ann League Coach of the Year after the 2005 and 2010 seasons. Not a bad resume.
Rafferty thanked supporters in an open letter to the North Andover Football Community on the “Support Coach Rafferty” Facebook page:
“We are grateful for the opportunity to coach your sons again. It is an honor and a privilege. Simply stated, your actions have allowed me to do what I love – coach football at North Andover High. The words, THANK YOU, just don’t feel like they are enough to express how truly grateful, humbled, and overwhelmed I am right now.”
Rafferty continued: “During these past two weeks, you’ve demonstrated the core beliefs of the North Andover Football program: Respect, Perseverance, Passion and the belief in HARD WORK. You have believed in and brought to life the concept of teamwork.”
Laorenza said he is proud of Superintendent Dr. Kevin Hutchinson and the School Committee for being proactive in the rehiring of Rafferty.
“Everybody seemed to know what was at stake at the (School Committee) meeting,” Laorenza said. “In terms of the Superintendent and the School Committee it came down to them either having their fingers in the dyke or their fingers on the pulse (of the community).”
“All things considered, I am very happy with the way things turned out,” Laorenza said.
Me, too. But a class act like John Rafferty shouldn’t have been made to look like Charlie Brown flat on his back.
Mark Behan may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org