It’s difficult for any high school sports program to replace a combined 2,680 wins. However, it is even more difficult to replace an icon.
The Archbishop Molloy H.S., Briarwood, community will attempt to do both this spring, as the school continues to mourn the loss of legendary coach Jack Curran, who died peacefully in his sleep on March 14.
Curran coached basketball and baseball at Molloy for 55 years and is the winningest coach in N.Y.S. history. In baseball alone, his teams won 17 city championships.
With the baseball season underway at Molloy, the acting baseball coaches realize that it will be impossible to replace Curran. Instead, they will continue his philosophy to keep the program running strong.
“He’s (Curran) irreplaceable for what he did for this school and for what he’s done for the community,” said interim head baseball coach Brad Lyons, Curran’s assistant for the past two years and a math teacher at Molloy. “You don’t replace someone like that. You don’t try to fill his shoes.”
Lyons played baseball at Massapequa H.S., L.I., and then went on to pitch at the University of Maryland, College Park, Md. He said the team was shocked to hear of Curran’s passing, since Curran had said he was recovering well from a knee injury and was in good spirits.
“It’s almost like we’re still waiting for him (Curran) to come back,” Lyons said. “I’m still waiting for the doors to swing open and for Coach to start strolling out to the field one day.”
In addition to Lyons, Brother James Vagan, F.M.S., maintains his post as an assistant coach. He served under Curran in the Molloy dugout for the past 29 years.
This season, former Molloy standout Matt Rizzotti will also help coach the team. He played under Curran and graduated in 2004, and he was teammates with current New York Mets outfielder Mike Baxter on the Molloy team that won the 2002 city championship.
Rizzotti played ball at Manhattan College, the Bronx, and was drafted as a first baseman by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2007. He spent the past six in the minor leagues and helped out when he could at Molloy, but this will be his first official season on the Stanners’ bench.
“I always figured that when my playing career was done that I would come back and help out Coach Curran,” Rizzotti said. “That’s always how it went.”
Rizzotti said that it must have been tough for the student athletes to lose their coach but even tougher due to Curran’s stature. But he said the players have extra motivation to produce and have dedicated their season to their former coach.
“If there is ever a year to hold nothing back and turn it on and prove a point that Coach’s legacy is indeed great, this is the year to achieve that goal,” Rizzotti said.
Coach Curran’s Bucket
To honor Curran, the players will wear black No. 5 patches on their uniforms – Curran wore No. 5. The team also has No. 5 practice jerseys that they will wear under their uniforms.
But to truly feel Curran’s presence, the team decided during its opening meeting that it would keep Coach’s old bucket in the dugout. Curran used to sit on the bucket during games, and now this year, no one will sit on that bucket.
“It’s just a reminder that he’s (Curran) always watching,” said senior pitcher Chris Piteo, who signed to play baseball at the University of Maine, Orono, Maine. “His presence will always be with us. Whenever you pass it, you keep him in mind.”
The team’s ultimate goal this season is to win a city championship. This year’s squad is still Coach Curran’s team, so winning a city title would further cement his legacy in the Catholic league.
“Our motto this year is ‘Leave it all out there on the field for Coach,’” said senior pitcher Greg Boyle, who is heading to Hofstra University, Hempstead, L.I., this fall. “I think the best way to honor Coach is to go out there and win some games. That’s what Coach would have wanted us to do.”
The spotlight will shine brightly on the Stanners all season, but if they use what they’ve learned from Coach Curran, the team will be a contender come playoff time.