WEST HAVEN >> The time has finally come. Entering his 44th season as a head football coach, 32 at West Haven after spending 12 at St. Joseph, Ed McCarthy has decided to call it a career.
After thinking about it for quite some time, the state’s all-time winningest coach, now 68, will coach his last games this season.
“It’s time,” McCarthy said. “Forty-four years as a head coach is a long time. I still love every aspect of it, but it’s time. I hope I have left the program in good hands.”
McCarthy, with 326 wins to enter the season, is also a physical education instructor at the high school. He will continue in that capacity through his retirement from football.
“I will keep going with that,” McCarthy said. “It is not time for that (retirement) yet.”
McCarthy surpassed former Ledyard coach Bill Mignault to set the state record with 322 wins in a victory over Hamden in West Haven’s seventh game of the 2013 season. His team added four more wins following the record-breaker, but fell short of a state title, losing to Fairfield Prep in the Class LL semifinals.
“I will reflect back when it is all over and really be proud of what was accomplished,” McCarthy said after picking up the record-breaking win October 26, 2013. “I look back to all the coaches that were before us and what they did. It is really something I will be proud of.
“I have had great players and tremendous assistant coaches. And I have been able to have good health. Some others were in the prime of coaching and had to give it up. I have been fortunate.”
That time of reflection is drawing closer now with the announcement this will be McCarthy’s final campaign. McCarthy is hoping to add a few more pieces of hardware to his already impressive collection as the legendary coach has won four state titles with West Haven (1986, 1987, 1989 and 2002) and three with St. Joseph (1980-1982).
“There have been a lot of great memories,” McCarthy said. “The championships here and certainly you go back to St. Joe’s. They all rank up there.
“I love the game of football and I love all football people. That includes coaches, officials and members of the press.”
McCarthy, a 2002 West Haven High School Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, has had plenty of memories in his four decades on the sidelines, but this season may be his most fulfilling.
McCarthy will go out while coaching his son, Tim, a sophomore who is expected to be the team’s starting quarterback. His youngest son, James, is a freshman and is in the program on the freshman team.
McCarthy, who has four kids including a daughter, Kerry Olivieri, also coached his son Ed, Jr. in the 1990’s with his senior year coming in 1994.
“It’s been special,” McCarthy said in regards to coaching his three boys. “Looking back with Eddie (Jr.), I probably didn’t realize it at the time. He played three years as a kicker, then played his senior year at quarterback. He had a really good year. After 20 years, I think it is more special to me now.
“With Timmy, I think it might be tougher on him than me. As we speak right now, he is doing very well. I think he is going to be a really good player. James is just coming through the system and that’s special as well.”
Tim McCarthy knows how much time his father has spent away from the family due to coaching. The West Haven starting quarterback, who is quick to credit the job of his mother, Marilyn, would not change a thing.
“It’s awesome playing for him,” Tim McCarthy said. “I have been waiting to play a game here with him since I was on this field when I was one and sitting on the sidelines. It is tough. I did not expect it seeing he had not said anything.
“My mom has been unbelievable in every way you can imagine. She is doing everything at home to make sure we have everything in order while me and James are here with him playing football. It is great just to be able to play for him.”
When asked what he plans to do in the next phase of his life, McCarthy is not going to stray too far, summing it up in typical McCarthy fashion.
“I hope to be West Haven’s biggest fan,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy’s run has been helped along the way with his loyal assistants. Among the many in over four decades, Bert Siclari coached 20 years through the 2002 season and Rich Boshea is still by McCarthy’s side 29 years later.
“That has meant a lot,” McCarthy said. “They have had great dedication. I have always said on my tombstone it should say two things. I have had more great assistant coaches than anybody. They have been top notch all the way. Some of these coaches I have become best friends with. I am also proud of the relationships I have with opposing coaches, officials and members of the media. The second thing is no one has coached more good football players than me.”
Boshea, who McCarthy is strongly endorsing to succeed him for the head coaching job, is sad as not only is a mentor retiring, but McCarthy is also someone Boshea calls a true friend.
“I am sad to see him go,” Boshea said. “After 28 years, we are personally intertwined too. I try not to look at it as I am seeing him go because I will see him. But, it is certainly going to be different without him here all the time.
“One of the big things he taught me is to respect the game. He understands the game is bigger than he is and the kids come first. He tries to filter down to the kids that the game comes first. He wants the kids to respect the game. He has never made the game about him. He doesn’t allow the show boating. It is always about the game first.”
Boshea summed up his thoughts of McCarthy following the record-setting win last season.
“It is fitting he holds the record because no one respects, enjoys or loves high school football more than Eddie,” said Boshea after the win over Hamden.
“I feel a part of it. I can say, for many years, I coached with the winningest high school coach in Connecticut ever. That’s great to be a part of.”
McCarthy, who has a great relationship with his players, is quick to point out he has had great players along the way. Included in that group are former NFL player Ulish Booker, present player Rob Jackson and the up and coming Ervin Philips, who is presently playing at Syracuse University.
All credit McCarthy for the work he put in on and off the field. To this day, Jackson still considers McCarthy a father figure with all the help McCarthy provided as Jackson worked his way from junior college to Kansas State University to the Washington Redskins.
“Those guys are special,” McCarthy said. “I would like to think we have done that for a lot of guys whether it is in their jobs or careers. That is what it is all about really. That has been fulfilling.”
Philips can offer the same sentiments.
“He has helped me elevate my game,” Philips said last season. “He is a funny guy, a great guy. He is a good person who will help out anybody.”
McCarthy will have plenty of time to reflect on his career after what he hopes is a playoff run into December. With running back Marshont Little in the backfield and Tim McCarthy behind center to lead a balanced attack, West Haven has the potential to make big plays on offense.
“We will play hard,” McCarthy said of the 2014 campaign. “We will compete every week. We are very, very young, but very talented. We have some good young players. Can we do it physically? That remains to be seen.”
McCarthy says he wants to be West Haven’s biggest fan, but to those who know him, there is plenty of time for that.
Entering his 44th and final season, McCarthy and his team have a state title to pursue.