When he was inducted in 2003 into the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame, Dennis Breen reflected on the coaches who had influenced his career path.
They included Ernie Richards and Jack Gregory, who had coached him, respectively, at Millis High School and the University of Rhode Island, and fellow Hall of Famer Dick Corbin, for whom he had worked as an assistant coach at Milford High.
“My coaches had an impact on my life, and I felt I wanted to have that same impact,” Mr. Breen told the Globe that year, adding that “any time you get an award like this — and I think this is true of any coach — you have to credit the people who have been there with you along the way.”
When he was head football coach in Milford from 1979 to 1998, his teams won three Central Massachusetts Division 1 Super Bowls, and they were runner-up in another.
Mr. Breen, who was a senior co-captain at URI in 1971 when he was a Yankee Conference first team defensive selection, died of cancer June 8 in Countryside Health Care in Milford. He was 64 and had lived in Milford since 1974.
He was superintendent of the Hopedale public schools from 2010 until retiring earlier this year, and he was principal of Hopedale Junior-Senior High the previous nine years.
“Dennis was a high character individual, humble and compassionate as a coach and an educator,” said John Dagnese, his longtime assistant, who succeeded Mr. Breen as Milford’s head coach in 1999.
“Dennis approached his superintendency as if he was preparing for a game or a practice,” said Hopedale Junior-Senior High principal Derek Atherton, who was an end on Mr. Breen’s 1986 Super Bowl championship team. “He was a hands-on administrator who made sure those around him had what they needed to be successful, and he was a fantastic communicator.”
Atherton said he accepted the principal’s job knowing Mr. Breen would be his mentor. “People from all walks of life valued his opinion,” he said.
One was Richards, who also was Mr. Breen’s high school baseball coach.
“Dennis was the only guy who could make me change my mind after I had made a decision, long after he played for me,” Richards said. “He did everything I asked of him as a baseball and football captain. He played offense and defense in football, never gave less than 110 percent on every play, and boy, could he run down a ball in the outfield.”
Mr. Breen, who always carried a clipboard under his arm during his coaching days, remembered in detail the first time he carried a football as a high school sophomore.
“We were playing Medfield and I was nervous as heck,” he told the Globe in 2003, adding that, “I just followed one of our linemen, Jay Monaghan, into the end zone.”
He also followed Monaghan to the University of Rhode Island, and Mr. Breen led the Yankee Conference with four interceptions his senior season.
“He was a class act — my fraternity brother and my workout partner in college,” said Monaghan, who added that their coach, Jack Gregory, “respected him for his leadership by example, his athleticism, and because the younger players looked up to him.”
Mr. Breen was a 1968 graduate of Millis High, where he also played varsity basketball. After graduating from college in 1972, he began his coaching career as an assistant for one season on Gregory’s staff. He also played semipro football for the Marlborough Shamrocks and New England Colonials.
He received a master’s in education from Cambridge College and a master’s in education leadership from Framingham State University.
“We met for the first time as college freshmen, lined up getting our football equipment, and I could sense a quiet confidence about him,” recalled his teammate and fraternity brother Tony Teolis, who coached high school football in Rhode Island for 30 years.
“He always wanted to be the best in drills,” Teolis said, “so in the summer we would take turns working out at his home in Millis and mine in Warwick.”
Teolis added that “in all the years I knew him, Dennis would set goals and never stopped until he reached them. And despite all his success, he never thought he was more special than anyone else.”
Mr. Breen taught physical education at Woodland Elementary School in Milford and later at the high school. He also coached track at Milford High for 20 years, winning three district championships. He left teaching and coaching in 1999 to become assistant principal at the high school.
“Being a school principal is quite challenging,” he told the Globe four years later. “You’re dealing with the public and with students at the same time, and you try to do what is best for both. I don’t think I was a tremendously talented athlete compared with the athletes of today, but I learned that hard work can make good things happen.”
A funeral has been held for Mr. Breen, who leaves his wife, the former Kelly Mohan; their daughters, Samantha, Shannon, and Carolyn; and his sisters, Barbara Veilleux and Kathleen Peterson, all of Milford.
In 2009, Mr. Breen helped save the Millis High School football team, which had only 14 incoming players, from being eliminated.
Chuck Grant, the Millis athletic director, approached Mr. Breen, who by then was the principal in Hopedale, about combining the Hopedale and Millis teams into a co-op squad that still exists.
“I could see it in his eyes that he could get it done, and he did it just about singlehandedly,” Grant said. “Three months after we spoke we had a 28-player team. He loved seeing us play, especially on Homecoming Day at Millis. He was so proud of that connection.”