Long-time St. Paul Catholic head football coach Jude Kelly - one of the stateâ€™s most revered coaches over the past 40-plus years - has retired from that position.
At the age of 67, and with a coaching career spans nearly half a century, Kelly said the years have begun to catch up with him physically and mentally, and he knew it was time to step away from the game he loves.
â€śTime is going to come around at some point for everybody,â€ť he noted. â€śIâ€™m sure I could have pushed it a little bit more, but to be fair to the game â€¦ I just kind of felt that it was a time to let a younger person get involved.â€ť
Kelly took over at St. Paul in 2005, when it was a co-op with Goodwin Tech. He finishes with a career record of 70-84 with the Falcons, including a 9-2 season in 2008 and an 8-3 mark in 2009, when the team earned the No. 4 seed in the Class MM state tournament and lost to No. 1 New Canaan in the semifinal round, 14-13.
In more recent years, the 67-year-old Kelly managed to keep the Falcons above the .500 mark despite consistently low turnout compared to other schools. The team went 39-33 over the last seven seasons, finishing below the .500 mark for the first time since 2012 when it went 4-6 this past year.
â€śItâ€™s something thatâ€™s been your life for all those years,â€ť Kelly said. â€śItâ€™s a great experience, meeting new people all the time and making an impact on kidsâ€™ lives. Itâ€™s pretty rewarding.â€ť
It didnâ€™t take long on Wednesday for appreciative tweets to start flooding in.
Paul Aiello, father of Dominic and Joey Aiello, posted on Twitter: â€śSo glad my boys had the opportunity to play for this man. Great Coach and Role Model. Wish this day never came. Happy Retirement Coach Kelly.â€ť
Former St. Paul receiver Dan Spatafore tweeted: â€śTaught so much more than just football! Truly thankful I had the opportunity to play for Coach Kelly, you and the rest of the SP football staff. All love #thankyoucoach.â€ť
Kevin Ashworth, a former St. Paul quarterback, added: â€śNot just a coach but a mentor... Thank you x1000.â€ť
Before coming to St. Paul, Kelly enjoyed great success with the Southington and East Catholic programs. In 17 years under coach Kelly, Southington made three state championship game appearances and won the Class LL state title in 1998. In nine years with East Catholic, dating back to 1978, Kelly led the program to three Class M championships. Overall, he retires with a 246-178-4 record over 41 years as a high school head coach.
â€śThereâ€™s no question Jude is a legend when it comes to coaching on Connecticut,â€ť St. Paul athletic director David Dennehy said. â€śYou hope someone like coach Kelly can coach forever â€¦ but he has given almost 50 years of his life to the craft, so we are certainly happy for him â€¦ but sad that he wonâ€™t be on the sidelines with us this year.â€ť
Despite his on-field success, that was not Kellyâ€™s prime focus.
â€śAnyone who knows coach Kelly knows that he is an educator first, and football has been his vehicle for nearly 50 years to educate men,â€ť Dennehy said. â€śWhat heâ€™ll be remembered most for is the impact he had on the lives of those he coached, those who coached with him, his colleagues, his friends.â€ť
Kelly got his start as a graduate assistant coach at Southern Connecticut State University after completing his playing career there, eventually spending five years coaching there before switching to the high school level.
â€śI decided I would have a bigger impact with the high school aged kids than the college kids,â€ť he said.
The coach said many people might be surprised to learn that despite his state titles and other successes on the field, his highlights from coaching are much simpler.
â€śEvery day on the practice field is the best moment. â€¦ I enjoy the practices way more than the games,â€ť Kelly said. â€śI just love practice and getting out to practice and working with the boys to get ready for a game.â€ť
St. Paul will now have to find a new head coach as Kelly moves on with the next phase of his own life.
â€śIâ€™ve had a lot of great experiences and a lot of great memories, and Iâ€™ve met a lot of great people,â€ť he said. â€śI feel I did the best I could as a football coach and a teacher. â€¦ I just hope that the players that Iâ€™ve worked with and the students Iâ€™ve had in school have gotten something out of the experience.â€ť
Paul Angilly can be reached at 860-973-1800, or firstname.lastname@example.org