Legendary football coach Curley dies at 86

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Tom Curley was a legendary football coach at Audubon and Haddon Twp. high schools.

At Audubon High School, Tom Curley ran the run-and-shoot offense and had plays named “Pop-Corn Trap” and “Wagon Train.”

At Haddon Township High School, Curley sold his athletes on the notion of a “Seven Second Effort” for the average amount of time in each play.

At each of those neighboring Camden County schools, Curley built championship-caliber football programs that turned Saturday morning home games into must-see events in those communities.

One of the most respected coaches in South Jersey football history, Curley died Saturday at the age of 86.

“He oozed football,” said Eric Landgraf, who played for Curley at Haddon Township in the early 1980s. “He lived football. Football and family — that’s what he was all about.”

Curley is survived by his wife, Mary Alice; daughters Suzanne McFarland, Mary Pat Mignogna, Maureen Bruno, Kathleen Zelinsky, and Molly Fleming, and son Patrick.

Curley, who was a retired administrator from Haddon Township High School and lived in the Westmont section of Haddon Township, also is survived by 14 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

“He was the kind of coach you wanted so badly to prove you could play for,” said Audubon baseball coach Rich Horan, who played football for Curley with the Green Wave in the early 1970s. “His players loved him.”

A native of the Wilkes-Barre, Pa., region, Curley followed the late Harry Gamble, who would become the Eagles’ general manager, as Audubon’s coach in the early 1960s.

Curley built the Green Wave into a South Jersey power. Audubon won the Colonial Conference and South Jersey Group 3 title in 1967, running the run-and-shoot offense, a major innovation at the time.

“Tom was an innovator,” said Mike Spontak, Curley’s longtime assistant at Audubon. “We were both from the coal region, upstate Pa., and we were taught that football practices were two-and-a-half hours long and no water and all that stuff.

“Tom changed all that. He said, ‘You know what? If we can’t teach it in an hour-and-a-half (practice), we can’t teach it.’

“Then he changed the offense, right in the middle of the year. Went to a run-and-shoot.”

Paul Frantz was a senior on the 1967 Audubon team and later coached with Curley for five seasons at Haddon Township.

“Two games left in our junior year, he changed the offense,” Frantz said. “Then we ran it it in ’67, won the Colonial Conference, won the Suburban Cup, and won South Jersey Group 3.”

Horan played on Audubon teams that went 8-1 in 1971 and 7-2 in 1972.

“I remember one year we played Collingswood on a Monday, must have been 7,000 people there,” Horan said. “We scored a touchdown to win with like 20 seconds left, and I remember Tom would walk around and go up to people he didn’t even know and ask, “Who won the big Audubon-Collingswood game?'”

Curley moved from Audubon to Haddon Township in the mid-1970s and guided the Hawks through the most decorated period in the history of the program.

From 1979 through 1981, Haddon Township made three straight South Jersey Group 2 championship games.

“We lost each one in crazy fashion,” said Landgraf, who played on the 1980 and 1981 teams.

Landgraf said Curley and his assistants inspired the players with their work effort.

“I remember on Sundays, we would walk through the gym or ride our bikes past, and those guys would be in there all day breaking down film,” Landgraf said. “We realized how much they cared, how hard they worked. We didn’t want to let them down.”

Curley worked with assistant coaches such as Joe Bendorf and Tom Brown and coached players such as Bob Preziosi at Audubon and Steve Flacco, the father of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, and John Walter at Haddon Township.

Curley retired with a record of 114-83-8 in 21 seasons at Audubon and Haddon Township.

Curley remained active in the sport after his retirement, helping to run the annual Adam Taliaferro all-star game at Rowan University in June and also serving as a member of the Adam Taliaferro Foundation, which supports people who sustain severe neck or spinal-cord injuries.

Curley is to be inducted into the Camden County Sports Hall of Fame in October.

Funeral services are pending.