Hudson Valley Sports Report

RICH THOMASELLI COMMENTARY: WE LOST ONE OF A KIND IN BILL DILLON

Longtime Area Football Coach Passes Away

My favorite Bill Dillon story came when the longtime area football coach – at Our Lady of Lourdes High School, Arlington, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Marist College – was the head man of the Admirals’ program.

This had to be the late 1980s, early 1990s, when I was still a sportswriter at the Poughkeepsie Journal. Dating myself here but that was the time there were no state high school playoffs. Instead, in Section 1, teams qualified for ‘bowl’ games in their respective classes. Arlington had just won a big game to qualify for a bowl against either Scarsdale or North Rockland, I can’t remember which team it was.

Rich Thomaselli Commentary

And it just so happened that the Scarsdale or North Rockland coach was there to watch and scout Arlington’s win in Freedom Plains. That coach and Dillon met privately after the game in an office inside the school to discuss exchanging game tape. Again, dating myself here but there was no Hudl back in the day.

Long story short, I asked Dillon if I could sit in on the meeting for a little ‘color’ for my story, and he said sure. The meeting quickly devolved into a shouting match between the two men, as Dillon was rightfully reluctant to give up game tape at that exact moment without getting film back. That would have given his opponent a day or two lead time on scouting. The two men yelled some more, and couldn’t even come to an agreement on meeting the next day at a neutral place to exchange game film.

The argument ended when the Scarsdale or North Rockland coach said, “You know what? F— your tape, we’re going to kick your ass next Saturday,” and stormed out.

Dillon was seething, his face red. He turned and looked at me, and I prepared myself to get verbally eviscerated. I decided to be proactive and said “Bill, no worries, I won’t be writing about this.”

He quickly replied, “Hell no! Print it! Print every f—ing word! Because you know what? We’re going to kick his ass next week.”

Dillon paused and burst into uncontrollable laughter and said, “Uh, just don’t print that last part about us kicking his ass. End it with him saying he was going to kick our ass.”

It was a classic moment and, when the Admirals did indeed kick ass to win the bowl game a week later, the encounter and the victory became stuff of legend.

I was reminded of that story when I heard that Bill Dillon, a man’s man and a football coach’s coach, passed away on Friday at the age of 81.

READ MORE: Bill Dillon’s Obituary

Football coach. Business teacher. Proud member of the U.S. Army National Guard. Role model.

You will search long and hard before finding a finer man.

Dillon was an offensive genius. As an assistant to Brian Tervenski at Lourdes, he helped develop two standout quarterbacks before taking the head job at Arlington – Jim Fedigan, who later went on to star at Marist and was voted into the college’s Hall of Fame in 2012, and the late Sean Gordon, who directed a lethal passing offense for the Warriors and for years held the state record of seven touchdown passes in a game.

“Coach Dillon was old school. He wanted his players to have a say in the game. He gave us a game plan all week and worked closely with the QB’s all week, then on game day I called all my own plays as did (all-state quarterback) Rob McKeon the year before,” Fedigan recalled. “When I called timeout in a big spot and came to the sideline I’d say ‘What do you think?’ and he’d say, ‘What do YOU think? I’d tell him and he’d say ‘Go with it. I trust your call.’ He was a father figure to me and someone that I would routinely pick up the phone to call to discuss not just football but family questions, and sometimes just to listen to him talk about his traveling and his family.  He was so proud of his kids.”

From left to right: Former Lourdes star Joe Kesselmark, former OLL head football coach Brian Tervenski, former multisport OLL standout Pat Jermyn, former Lourdes quarterback Jim Fedigan and former OLL, FDR, Arlington and Marist coach Bill Dillon.

Dillon was a player’s coach, to be sure. One time, Fedigan, still backing up McKeon before taking over when McKeon graduated, came on late in the game with OLL leading archrival Poughkeepsie 28-0. Tervenski told Fedigan to run the ball but teammate Tom Kelly, a senior, told the younger Fedigan to call “142 Jumper,” a quick drop by the quarterback and a pass over the middle to the tight end. Kelly wanted to close his career with a touchdown.

Fedigan was reluctant to defy his head coach’s wishes, but the Lourdes offensive line encouraged him to call the play and get the senior the score.

“I did it, Tom scored, we walked off the field and I saw Coach T just starting at me like he was going to kill me,” Fedigan recalled. “Coach Dillon came over to me on the bench and started wagging his finger in my face. He said, ‘Is Tervenski watching?’ I said yes, and coach Dillon got more and more animated with the finger wagging.”

But Fedigan had to keep from cracking up because Dillon’s words weren’t matching his animated gestures.

As it looked like Dillon was berating the quarterback, he was telling Fedigan “We are going to have so much fun next year with you throwing the ball! I can’t wait to get to work over the summer!” He then winked and walked away, and Tervenski was satisfied thinking his assistant had given Fedigan a tongue-lashing and never mentioned it again.

“Man,” Fedigan said, “I loved that guy.”

So involved in area football was Dillon that he held no allegiances after stepping away from coaching in 2008. If you were a coach, and you wanted help and insight, Dillon was there.

“His Mid-Hudson Camp during the summer was a huge factor in the turnaround of our program and he always welcomed us with open arms,” said Spackenkill coach Clinton DeSouza, who added that Dillon was influential in helping him find is way as a young coach. “His generosity always shown through when we had families that could not afford the price for camp. He simply covered the cost himself.”

DeSouza met with him often to discuss offensive strategies and player development.

“His knowledge was vast and he always made me feel a big part of the coaching community,” DeSouza said. “His loss is a loss for Dutchess County football and the coaching brotherhood. They often talk about coaching trees, but he was the type of coach that brought every coach, foe or friend, under his guidance.”

That would include longtime Millbrook head coach and now Lourdes JV coach Sean Keenan, who played under Dillon for the Warriors.

“Coach Dillon has been a great coach, mentor and friend to me for over 35 years. But what I will cherish the most is the support he gave me and Coach Fedigan our years coaching together in Millbrook,” said Keenan, who added that he was looking at old film and saw Dillon standing on his sideline more often than not.

“Most of the time he was telling me it was not illegal to pass the ball,” laughed Keenan, notorious for his double-wing rushing offense. “He will be sorely missed by many.”

Arlington coach John Biasotti had a chance to work directly under Dillon from 1992-2000.

“First and foremost, Bill was a respected teacher, a great coach and a good man,” Biasotti said. “He and (then-athletic director) Dick Beams brought me on staff in 1992 when I began my teaching career at Arlington.  Bill was fiery competitor and he was as old school as they get in the sense that he was a strict disciplinarian and was a firm believer in fundamentals and repetition. He was a great teacher of quarterback fundamentals and he was ahead of his time when it came to the pass game. Our quarterbacks at Arlington were always well prepared.  Bill always played to the strengths of our quarterback which always gave us the best opportunity to be successful.”

Biasotti said Dillon treated him like a son.

“He was a great mentor,” Biasotti said. “Much of what I learned about the importance of discipline and organization I owe to Bill Dillon.  He is held in the highest regard by all of the players that he has coached and he will truly be missed.”

As for me, I will never not think about Bill Dillon and recall the absolute love and devotion he had for all his players. It came easy for him, because he was one of those guys who gave immediate respect to whoever had the guts to put on a uniform and a helmet, or whoever walked the sidelines and helped turn youngsters into adults – with all of the qualities that he himself believed in and most admired.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *