A Hall of Fame Football Coach Reminisces

Bob Budd has been associated with Bonac’s football program for the past half-century.
If the kids weren’t ready to play football following his Friday night talks, they never would be. Jack Graves

Bob Budd, who is to be inducted into East Hampton High School’s Hall of Fame in the fall, has been associated with Bonac’s football program for the past half-century — the last 17 years as a volunteer. 

His philosophy, when it came to teaching and coaching, he said during a conversation this past week at The Star, “is very simple — love the kids and know what the hell you’re talking about.”

An all-county football player (quarterback and tailback) and an all-county pitcher at Patchogue High School, Budd declined football scholarships proffered by Hofstra and St. Lawrence in favor of accepting one in baseball at the University of Bridgeport, where he earned an education degree.

“I had a tryout with the Milwaukee Braves,” he said in answer to a question, “at Yankee Stadium. Honey Russell, who coached Ed Petrie in basketball at Seton Hall, conducted it. I pitched to nine batters, struck out the first eight and threw out the ninth on a dribbler. Coming off the mound I was feeling pretty good. Honey Russell said, ‘Go home and grow about five or six or seven inches and we’ll look at you.’ ”

He began his teaching and coaching career in his hometown in 1961. Patchogue, he said, had been a great place, but it had changed. “Jean and I moved here in 1967. . . . We met in kin­dergarten. People don’t believe this,” he said with a smile, “but when I was in first grade I decided I was going to marry Jean.” 

“No,” he said in answer to a question, “she didn’t know. We were more or less together all through school . . . we started dating when we were sophomores.”

As for his 30-year science-teaching career here, “I wouldn’t have traded the job I had at the middle school for any other school in America.”

On arriving in East Hampton, he became the late football coach Gary Golden’s assistant, and East Hampton’s 18-13 upset of Southampton that year remains his favorite football memory.

“The Long Island Press, I think, had predicted Southampton would beat us 47-6. We had great practices all week, during which I never heard anything negative. We had a pretty decent team, there was a lot of confidence. Then, when we arrived in Southampton, we saw all these victory balloons in the stands. That excited our kids a little bit. And when we were in the locker room we saw them bring a victory cake into Southampton’s locker room. Afterwards, their coach . . . I can’t remember his name [it was Herb Goldsmith] . . . brought that cake into our locker room and said, ‘You guys deserve it.’ It was the best cake I ever ate.”

“Southampton’s smallest guy was their quarterback, who weighed 190. That was the same weight as our biggest guy, Rocky Claxton, one of our tackles. One of their tackles was Tom Tarazevits, who weighed 315 and played both ways. He went on to play for an Ivy League team,” Dartmouth.

“Let me tell you, we ran out of a different formation. We had been running out of the I, with the quarterback under center. That was our normal one. But for the Southampton game, we changed to a single-wing type of offense with the quarterback a little off-center to the left. Sometimes the snap would go directly to the tailback, which was William Myrick, a great back who led the county that year in scoring. He’s retired now, living in Nassau County — a wonderful, wonderful man. That formation confused them.”

“We came from behind in the fourth quarter. Southampton fumbled pretty deep in their territory. Leon Overton was our quarterback. The play that resulted in the winning touchdown was to go to Keith McMahon, but he was covered. William was the alternative receiver. He came out of the backfield and the pass went to him. He carried it in.”

“Before the game, Golden asked me who we had to stop. I had scouted Southampton three times and I knew they had a wide receiver, McMahon, same last name as Keith’s, who they’d throw deep to. They’d run, run, run, and then there’d be a deep pass to him. Kent Metz, who died recently, a really tough kid, went face up on McMahon, basically to prevent him from getting off the line of scrimmage. He took him away.”

“. . . Larry Cantwell was our right guard. His job was to pull and block Tarazevits on off-tackle plays. Larry never missed a block. He weighed 165 pounds at the time. . . . Yes, it’s true what they tell you, people lined the streets when we came back. We had a police escort through the village. The whole town turned out. To this day, it was the greatest upset I’ve ever seen. We shared the league championship with them.”

“Myrick . . . Pete Bistrian . . . those four players from the county-championship ’81 team who are already in the Hall of Fame — Eddie [Budd’s son], Richie Cooney, Joey McKee, and Charlie Ecker. . . . It’s unfair to ask me who I’d put on my all-time Bonac football team. . . . The Bonackers were always known as hard-nosed football players. Other coaches didn’t like to see us coming because they knew that, win or lose, it would be a battle. There’s been a real tradition here and Joey McKee [East Hampton’s present varsity coach] is doing a great job, he really is. He’s up on everything.” 

“Yes, concussions are a legitimate concern, but they’re tackling differently now, more like in rugby, with their shoulders. The head’s not involved. Joey’s doing everything he can, he’s got flag football going to get more kids involved, but the culture has changed: It’s not true of all of them, but sometimes the kids won’t commit wholeheartedly to a team, as they used to in the old days. And a lot of parents these days, for some reason, think they know better.”

Budd said he couldn’t remember a losing season during his 14-year tenure (first, as aforesaid, with Gary Golden, and then with Dick Cooney), “except for the year after austerity, in the late ’70s. We could have won a championship in that austerity year, but there were no sports at all. . . . The ’81 team won a county championship. That was as far as you could go then. There was no Long Island championship. We were classified as a B school then. We defeated Riverhead in the championship game 28-8. It was 26-zip at the end of the first quarter.”

“Eddie and Justin Winter were a good one-two punch in that ’81 backfield. I’ve nominated Justin for the Hall of Fame and I’ll keep pushing for him. We played eight games. He rushed for over 100 yards in seven of them, and was maybe five or seven yards shy in the other. As a combination, Justin, who lives in Riverhead now, and Eddie were lethal.”

“You may not believe this, but in Dick Cooney’s first year here, 1969, there were only 13 players on the team. We had to suit up jayvee players because you had to have 20. We went 2-6. We lost 49-0 to Hauppauge in our first game, but as the season went on we were losing by less and less and less, and we won our last two games. We beat Longwood and Riverhead of all teams. I have always said those guys were winners even though we had a losing season. That was definitely a highlight.”

His relationship with Dick Cooney had been a good one, “and working with Mike Burns [another former East Hampton A.D.] was a pleasure. He was a great coach, a great person, and he loved kids. He was a great motivator, and that’s been my forte too. When I’d talk to the team at the Friday night meetings, it basically wasn’t about football, but about life and working hard at everything you do. I used to get wound up, it was all from the heart. I’ve had kids tell me that after those Friday meetings if they weren’t ready to play football they never would be.” 

“You know, funny thing, with that ’81 team you come off the field, you’ve just beaten Riverhead by a big score and it’s euphoric, but it’s fleeting. That’s when you realize that the joy of the season lies in the week to week to week preparation, in the game planning, and in practice. To me, the Friday night meeting was the highlight of the week. Another highlight was going out in ’81 with Eddie, who I’d coached for three years.”

He had been volunteering for the past 16 or 17 years, he said, “because I just love to be with kids and I love the camaraderie of the sport. I’m 78 and I’m pleased that I can still do that. I don’t coach much anymore. Joey will ask me things sometimes, but I’m more like a grandfather. I pat kids on the back and encourage them.”

“And sometimes,” he said with a smile, “I do the same thing with the coach.”