Former Portland boys basketball coach Gene Reilly, one of the all-time winningest coaches in state history, passed away Sunday at Rhode Island Hospital. He was 70.
Reilly coached for 35 years at Portland (1972-2007), winning 547 games, still the sixth-best victory total in state history. Reilly also won one Class S state championship in 1982 and reached two other finals in 1986 and 1996.
Reilly also was the school’s longtime baseball coach, winning a Class S state title in 1988. He played both sports at both Bulkeley High in Hartford and Central Connecticut State University. He was an All-American in both sports his senior year for the Blue Devils in 1966.
Nick Chaconis, Portland’s longtime girls’ basketball coach, has won over 600 games and knew Reilly for 30 years.
“I just lost a good friend,” Chaconis said, “Gene was the first person I saw when I got to Portland in 1974. He was always there for me, through the good and the bad. You could always go to him for advice, either about sports or life. He wore many hats and was so much to so many people. His players and his friends and everyone he knew were his family. “
Reilly was selected Coach of the Year in Middlesex County (1976 and 1995) and Connecticut High School Coaches Association Basketball Coach of the Year in 1998. He is a member of the Connecticut High School Coaches, the New England and the Central Connecticut State University halls of fame.
Reilly’s late brother Joe was the longtime coach at the former South Catholic in Hartford and still stands ninth on the all-time state wins list with 512. Joe’s son, Joe, Jr., just completed his sixth season at Wesleyan University.
Luke Reilly, Joe’s other son and Gene’s nephew, just won his first state championship at East Catholic in March.
“It’s a great loss, but it will also be a great tribute to a great man,” Luke Reilly said. “I’ve been around the game my entire life and every word I heard about my uncle was always positive. He was always quick to lighten the mood. He had a great way about him. … This is terribly unfortunate, but we get to celebrate a great life and the impact he had on so many people.”
Current Choate Rosemary Hall prep coach Adam Finkelstein played for Reilly from 1997-99. He brought his team to Portland to scrimmage the Highlanders before Reilly’s final season.
“One of the things I always remember is a picture he had in his office with his players carrying him off the court after he won that state championship (in 1982). That was one of the things that first made me think about being a coach one day,” Finkelstein said. “In Portland, everyone from the principal on down referred to him as ‘Coach.’ I never heard anyone call him Mr. Reilly. Even in the town, everyone knew him as ‘Coach.’”
Middletown Press sports editor Jimmy Zanor contributed to this story.