When a coach retires at age 76, you can assume he’s had a long career. With Ken Perrone, that assumption resounds.
“I started coaching at 15. It was a 12-and-under basketball team,’’ said Perrone, who after 30 years as the baseball coach at Salem State University is retiring next month. He started the week with a notable 669-391 record, including a 26-8-1 mark entering Tuesday’s twin bill against Framingham State.
“He’s had an unparalleled dedication to his players, and his teams,’’ said Mario Padovani, a senior pitcher from Lynnfield. “He makes us shy away from selfishness. That’s grown into my philosophy.’’
Senior second baseman Chris Cocci added: “When I was looking at colleges I saw coach Perrone had a winning resume. He came to watch me play at McCoy Stadium when my high school team [The Proust School] played in the Rhode Island state championship game. Then he drove me around the Salem campus. He’s a really nice guy. I’ve tried to be everything he wanted me to be.’’
All Perrone wanted to do was coach. His decision was heavily influenced by his college coach at Maine, Jack Butterfield.
“My father died my sophomore year,’’ said Perrone, who will turn 77 in June. Butterfield helped fill the void. “He came along at the right time in my life. After my dad died Jack became more involved with me.’’
After graduating in 1959, Perrone became Butterfield’s assistant for two years.
Perrone has coached football at Salem High (1973-94), American Legion baseball teams, and the North Shore Spirits, a women’s baseball team. He refers to the Salem State team and its supporters as “my extended family.’’
After Saturday’s home doubleheader, about 150 people surprised Perrone with a reception in the gym. He still had his uniform on. A good number of his ex-players showed up.
“It’s been a long and wonderful career,’’ said Perrone. “I still feel great. But it’s time.’’
He has stayed in shape and walks nine holes on North Shore golf courses with his wife, Cynthia, almost every day.
“He hits fly balls to the outfielders that go over their heads,’’ said Cocci.
When last season ended, Perrone told his players this would be his last year.
“A couple of years ago I felt 30 years would be a good number to go out on,’’ he said. “I feel fortunate for having coached this long.’’
In 1983, Perrone took charge of a Salem State program that had been rocked by scandal three years earlier when coach Bill MacLeod conspired with coaches at Framingham State and Boston State to fabricate scores and report them to newspapers.
“The team was in a shambles when I took over,’’ said Perrone. “There were a lot of demons in the background that I cleaned out. I went with a young team and we went to the NCAA playoffs that season.’’
A Connecticut native, Perrone coached high school football in Maine for 13 years before moving on to Salem High.
“He was an innovator offensively,’’ said Mike Ward, who played defensive back for Perrone at Salem High.
After graduating from Tufts, where he played baseball, Ward served as Perrone’s baseball assistant at Salem State in 1991 before taking the head job at Salem High. He rejoined Perrone’s staff two years ago and will succeed his mentor next season, with Len Ferrari as his assistant.
What impresses Ward most about Perrone? “The excitement and energy he has for anything you do. He’s a super-organized guy. He’s had a lifelong passion for coaching. And he stays connected with his players.’’
“I’ll absolutely stay in touch with him,’’ said Padovani.
The 44-year-old Ward laughed when asked if he might still be coaching at 76.
“I hope I’m still above ground,’’ he said. “I know I’d like to be in the shape he’s in now.’’
Coaching is the only reward Perrone was after.
“My philosophy was to treat my players as family,’’ he said. “The hardest thing for me was cutting players. You have 75, 80 kids come out, and you’ve got to cut the squad to 29. My wife will tell you I’m miserable when I have to make a cut. When I coached football it was easier. We kept everybody.’’
Perrone lost his first wife, Janet, to cancer six years ago. He married Cynthia, a teacher-coach in Brewer, Maine, whom he’s known for 40 years. He and Janet had four children, including a daughter, Kathy, who has triplets entering high school next year. Two boys will attend St. John’s Prep in Danvers, and the girl will go to St. Mary’s of Lynn.
“It’s the first time the triplets will be separated,’’ said Perrone.
Cynthia had two children from a previous marriage. She and Perrone have 12 grandchildren, so the retiring coach will have plenty to keep him busy.
“We’ll be running around to basketball games, swimming meets, karate, everything,’’ said Perrone. He said he also plans on watching the Vikings play in the future.
“Coaching has been my life,’’ said the man who took his teams to 14 ECAC tournaments and five MASCAC championships. “I’ve loved all my teams, the successful ones and the not so successful.’’