Jim Delaney’s last football team at Camden Catholic won nine games.
His second-to-last team lost nine games.
“He was exactly the same guy both years,” said Mike Cornely, a junior on the 1978 team that went 0-9 and a senior on the 1979 team that went 9-2 and won the South Jersey Parochial A championship.
“He was a gentleman, at all times, in every situation.”
A legendary coach for the Irish whose influence on his players ranged far beyond the football field, Mr. Delaney died Monday of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 83.
“He’s the reason I’m a coach,” said Phil Petitte, who played for Mr. Delaney’s undefeated 1966 team and currently serves as an assistant coach at Rowan University. “I wanted to be Jim Delaney.”
Said Bill Tambussi, a prominent local attorney who played for Mr. Delaney in the mid-1970s: “I truly mean this: If he had called me last night and said he wanted me to walk through a wall of fire, I would have done it, no questions asked. He was just that kind of man.”
Mr. Delaney was Camden Catholic’s football coach for a total of 13 seasons in two stints, from 1963-69 and 1974-79. He is the program’s all-time leader in career victories with 62, and his 1966 team, which featured Notre Dame-bound Mike Kondrla, was the school’s last undefeated squad.
Joe McColgan, who like Petitte was a player on the 1966 team and an assistant on the 1979 team, called Mr. Delaney one of the most influential people in his life.
“He had the unique ability to motivate young men to levels of success on and off the field that they didn’t believe was possible," McColgan said.
In a statement, Camden Catholic said, “Coach Delaney is revered among generations of alumni for his legendary coaching style, mentorship and inspirational leadership.”
Mr. Delaney graduated from Northeast High in Philadelphia and served a stint in the U.S. Army before attending West Chester (Pa.) State, where he was a standout running back and sprinter for the track team.
He was an assistant football coach at La Salle High School and Gloucester Catholic before becoming Camden Catholic’s head coach in 1963 at age 27.
“He was tough,” Petitte said. “Three-hour practices. Drill after drill. You had to be a tough kid to play for him.”
Mr. Delaney coached four O’Brien brothers at Camden Catholic, including Terry in the 1960s and twins Tim and Kevin as well as Pat in the 1970s.
“His first season in 1963 he was coaching Terry and I was 6 and the twins were 7 and we used to tell Coach Delaney we were going to play for him one day,” Pat O’Brien said. “When he came back the twins’ senior year and my junior year in the locker room before our first game he said, ‘O’Brien brothers, you always said you wanted to play for me, now’s your chance.’
“We would have run through a wall for Coach Delaney.”
Mr. Delaney spent years assisting the ministry work at Sacred Heart Church in South Camden.
“He went every Saturday morning,” Terry Delaney said of his father. “It would be 48-50 Saturdays a year, for 30 years.”
Mr. Delaney also was deeply involved with Heart of Camden, an agency that rehabilitates and resells homes in Camden.
“That always was a joke since he had no know-how,” Terry Delaney said of his father’s carpentry skills. “But somehow some of those houses are still standing.”
Mr. Delaney, who spent nearly three decades as a guidance counselor at Cherry Hill East High School, was something of a Renaissance man. He held season tickets to the opera, traveled extensively to Europe as a chaperone on school trips, was a voracious reader and was well-versed in music and art.
“He used to drag us to the art museum all the time,” Terry Delaney said.
Even Mr. Delaney’s involvement in athletics reflected his diverse interests. He coached track as well as football. He helped started the wrestling program at Camden Catholic. He was a strong promoter of women’s sports.
“He was like the perfect Catholic-school football coach,” Cornely said.
Mr. Delaney is survived by his wife, Betty; children Terry, Maureen, Kathleen, Beth and Mimi; and 15 grandchildren.