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Bill Tighe, legendary football coach at Lexington High, dies at 95 of coronavirus complications

Bill Tighe coached his last game in 2010.John Blanding/Globe Staff file

Approaching his final game as head coach of Lexington High School’s football team, with six decades on the sidelines under his belt, Bill Tighe didn’t sound like he was quite ready to bring his legendary career to a triumphant close. As always, he was looking ahead toward helping players improve.

“We’re a good team. Getting better every week,” he told the Globe in 2010, when at 86 he had guided generations of athletes. “We still have some things to iron out, but that’s nothing some time on the practice field can’t fix. We’ll work on it.”

Mr. Tighe, who was recognized as the oldest active high school football coach in the nation when he retired that year, died Wednesday of coronavirus complications. He was 95 and had lived in Stoneham.

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“I’m old, although I don’t feel old,” he said days before Lexington’s season-ending victory left him with a career record of 269-232-13.

Still, he acknowledged, “the curtain has to come down sometime. It really is tough because I love kids and I love all the associations I’ve had over the years.”

“I was always awestruck at his ability to talk to the players,” said Ross Curley, Lexington’s football captain in 2006.

“One of his biggest accomplishments off the field was being a mentor and showing us how to be men, and on the field showing us all about teamwork,” Curley added. “That was more important to him than the wins and the losses.”

Not that Mr. Tighe was lacking in honors. He was inducted into several halls of fame, including those for Lexington, Malden, and Wakefield high schools, Boston University, and the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association, which also gave him its Distinguished Service Award.

“Coach Tighe will always be as big in Lexington as the Minuteman statue,” said Chuck Shaw, who graduated from Lexington High in 1984 and has been the school’s press box announcer the past 20 years.

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Stoneham High football coach Bob Almeida said that there’s never “been a finer man in the history of Massachusetts high school football than Bill Tighe. The example he set, and the way he treated people, is really what his legacy is all about. He had the whole package. He was competitive as could be, and yet always did things the right way. He’s the type of person that young coaches should want to emulate.”

Mr. Tighe also was a teacher, and with his wife he raised six children.

“His motto was always ‘family and football,’ ” said his son Kevin of Georgetown. “He always said that.”

In retirement, Mr. Tighe attended nearly every Lexington football game, and “couldn’t be in a place without coaching. It was just who he was,” said Michael Hill, the team’s current coach.

“Whether it be a kid or younger assistants, he just loved imparting knowledge on the game,” Hill added. “One of the coolest things for me about taking over at Lexington is that you’re at a program that was built by Bill Tighe.”

The oldest of three siblings, Mr. Tighe was born in 1924, a son of William Tighe and Agnes Anderson.

Mr. Tighe grew up in Ashland and graduated in 1942 from Ashland High School, where he played football and baseball. He then served in the Army Air Forces in the Pacific during World War II as a P-38 crew chief.

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At Boston University, from which he graduated in 1949, Mr. Tighe was the starting quarterback and a baseball standout, as well. Initially the starting third baseman, he was pressed into service on the pitching staff and posted a 3-0 record, including a no-hitter.

He played baseball in the Northern League with the St. Johnsbury, Vt., team and then launched a coaching career that stretched from 1949 to his official retirement in 2010 from Lexington and beyond, when he advised Stoneham High’s football coaches.

As a BU graduate, Mr. Tighe had also fielded professional football offers in an age when the pay wasn’t stellar. Instead, he accepted a high school assistant coaching offer.

“I did it because it was the most economical decision I could have made,” he told the Globe in 2002. “I knew from the time I got out of the service that this was what I wanted to do. My high school coach had a lot to do with it. I always loved what he did as a coach and how he made you feel as an athlete.”

Indeed, Mr. Tighe said he was inspired by Ashland coach Harold “Grump” Walker and BU football coach, Buff Donelli.

Walker “was an innovative, brilliant man,” Mr. Tighe told the Globe in 2005, and Donelli “used to have all his quarterbacks watch the pro football team in town then, the Boston Yanks, and then compare our scouting report to his.”

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Mr. Tighe spent several years as an assistant at Wakefield High School before taking over as head coach from 1957 to 1963, winning four Middlesex League championships.

In 1964, he began coaching at Malden High, and moved in 1975 to Lexington High, where the Minutemen advanced in 1984 to the Division 1 Super Bowl, losing to Brockton, 20-6.

The 2003 team won the Middlesex League championship and advanced to the state playoffs, but was defeated by Chelmsford. During that season, the New England Patriots honored Mr. Tighe as a “Coach of the Week.”

He also had served as president of the Massachusetts Football Coaches Association.

“I’ve never regretted being a teacher and a coach,” he told the Globe.

In 1949, Mr. Tighe married Mary T. Folger.

“I’m a disciple of football the whole year. I drive my wife crazy because I’m always watching TV and taking notes on what different college and professional teams are doing,” he said in 2002.

“We have two televisions so I have the chance to watch what I want,” she quipped in the same interview.

They were devoted parents, and two of their children — Michael and Billy — died of cystic fibrosis.

“Every year, I dedicate the football season to Billy and Michael. Their memory and my wife of 56 years are what keep me going,” Mr. Tighe said in a 2005 Globe interview.

His wife died the following year.

Mr. Tighe, who also had worked as a physical education teacher and guidance counselor, was renowned for the lengths to which he went to ensure students graduated and attended college.

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Lexington High awards the Mary & William Tighe Scholarship to METCO senior athletes who demonstrate academic and leadership promise.

In addition to his son Kevin, Mr. Tighe leaves two daughters, Sharon Adamo of North Reading and Maureen Martens of Hopkinton; another son, Steven of Salem, N.H.; a brother, Mickey; nine grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

Because of coronavirus restrictions, plans for a memorial service were not immediately available.

Former players often remarked about their coach’s memorable sayings. After a botched play, Mr. Tighe might yell: “Are you kidding me? Come on, chowderhead!”

But as he once told the Globe, “I have a great respect for every kid that puts on a uniform, I don’t care if he’s a star or not.”

“I just never get tired of it,” he said of his coaching career in 2002. “The kids really keep me feeling young. I love working with the kids.”

Globe correspondents Marvin Pave and Nate Weitzer contributed to this report.


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.