Tighe gave his heart and bared his soul to the game he loves
What will you be doing when you’re 86 years old?
Let me preface this by saying most of us would consider ourselves lucky just to see 86. There are less than six million Americans 85 or older as we speak. Only one-third of males in the United States even live to be that age.
From there, the details are icing on the cake.
Dick Tighe coached football. He did so leading up to his 86th birthday on Oct. 25. It was a routine very similar to when he was 26, or 36, or 46, or 56 or … you get the picture.
For 63 consecutive years – every fall, without fail – Tighe patrolled the sidelines. First in Ontario, Canada. Then St. Edmond. Carroll Kuemper. Webster City. Iowa Falls. And finally, back to St. Edmond.
Over six full decades. To put that into perspective, Tighe recently tied fellow high school football icon John McKissick of Summerville, S.C. for the longest stretch as a head coach in the history of the sport – a sport that’s been around for well over 100 years, and is currently offered at nearly 15,000 schools across the country.
Tighe didn’t just meander through his career, either. Of the 63 teams under his direction, 58 had winning seasons. By a comfortable margin, he had more years with double-digit victories (eight) than losing campaigns (five). From 1970 through 1991, his Webster City squads went 6-3 or better every single year, without fail.
When Tighe was hired by St. Edmond before the 2002 season, the Gaels had lost 43 of their last 45 games on the gridiron. Tighe’s tenure saw only 48 setbacks combined in the next 15 years. They won 11 or more contests three times, and nine or more on six separate occasions. They reached the state quarterfinals in 2005, ’13 and ’14; the state semifinals for the first time in school history in consecutive years (2013 and ’14); and the championship round at the UNI-Dome four seasons ago.
We could discuss his very few ”down” years and debate the reasons for such all day long. He was, for all intents and purposes, deemed too old to coach when he parted ways with Webster City in 1997 at the age of 67. History repeated itself after four successful seasons in Iowa Falls, when he was 71 in 2001 and shown the door.
Yet Tighe always landed on his feet and got the last laugh. Older just meant wiser; he found ways to reincarnate his style, and the wins kept coming. An Iowa-record 432 of them, to be exact.
Most people identify easier things to do with their time as they reach retirement age. Activities less physically and mentally taxing. Low stress, or even no stress.
Tighe chose spent his golden years grinding through summer two-a-days, bitter cold late-October evenings, long bus trips, late nights and early mornings in the fall, week after week, year after year, decade after decade.
Sound crazy? Tighe never hesitated. He said over and over again that he didn’t want it and wouldn’t have it any other way. The records and titles and notoriety were nice, of course, but Tighe did it strictly because he loved coaching kids and loved the game.
Consistently and unconditionally.
Football was his job, his passion, his hobby – his life. And he taught it as well as anyone. As Tim Flattery, Tighe’s first quarterback with the Gaels in 2002, said on Twitter, ”I’ve never seen a coach who was able to simplify the game so well for kids. One of the greatest to ever walk the sidelines.”
Tighe wasn’t ready to step aside, but Tighe wouldn’t have ever really been ready to step aside. Again, we can discuss and debate the timing of Monday’s resignation all day long.
Instead, let’s take a step back and appreciate the overall body of work. True greatness. One of the very best to ever walk the sidelines in our state, with the strength and stamina to do so for an unprecedented period of time.
We’ll never see longevity partnered with consistent results quite like this again. Tighe never had a ”prime”; his entire Hall of Fame career was his prime.
I don’t care how anyone felt about his style or his methods or his cadence. It doesn’t matter anymore. The proof is in the numbers, and in the way Tighe and his players carried themselves. They worked hard, they hit hard, and they represented their communities with dignity and respect.
We all owe him that today. Respect.
What will you be doing when you’re 86 years old? Dick Tighe coached football. And I respect the hell out of him for that.
Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org