On a day in which a number of the nation’s top football recruits made their college destinations official with the start of the early signing period, a more subtle, but more dramatic development emerged from a coach’s office at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School Wednesday afternoon.
Not too long after his most coveted recruit changed his commitment to Boston College, Tom Lopez called his players into a meeting to announce that his recently-completed 41st season as head coach would be his last.
The 72-year-old Lopez had made his decision prior to what was a 9-2 season and a run to the Division 2 North final against North Andover. He wanted to go out with one of his most talented, and treasured senior classes, one that had helped fuel an 11-1 season in 2017 and a trip to the Super Bowl against King Philip.
His final victory, No. 303 of his Hall of Fame career, came on Thanksgiving, a 49-14 win over his alma mater, Newton South.
“For me, it was the right time,” Lopez said.
“I told the kids, to coach 48 years at one place, I’ve had the best job in America. I’m leaving with a lot of smiles on my face. It’s a great place to coach, a great school, great kids. The parent support was great, the administration was great, I have no regrets at all.
“I told the kids, I hope they wake up in the morning after college, and they get a job, and they’re half as happy as I am here. I’ve been really happy for a long time.”
As revered for his pioneering Wing-T attack as he is for his mild-mannered demeanor, Lopez leaves behind a legacy that is wide-ranging and manifold, with few peers.
A Bates College graduate, he came to L-S as an assistant in 1971, and was elevated to head coach in 1978.
His 300th win came on Oct. 19, with a 41-9 conquest of Dual County League rival Wayland. He took eight teams to Super Bowls, winning three, in 1985, 1986, and 1989.
He finished his career with a 303-126-5 record. He ranks fifth in state history, behind Northbridge’s Ken LaChapelle (347), Brockton’s Armond Colombo (316), John DiBiaso (313), and Salem’s Bill Broderick (304).
Along the way, Lopez developed some of the most talented players to come through the Bay State, headlined by Joe Sims and Mike Croel, who starred collegiately at Nebraska and later played in the NFL. He coached his son, Michael, who followed his father’s large footsteps to the offensive line at Bates and now works for the NFL.
In the Dual County League, a Lincoln-Sudbury vs. Acton-Boxborough matchup was an annual must-see game with Lopez and Bill Maver matching wits on opposing sidelines.
Lopez remains a powerful voice of reason on the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association. He was inducted into the MSFCA’s Hall of Fame in 2008 and most recently served as association president.
His endorsement of the current playoff system helped pave the way for the MIAA to finally adopt a statewide tournament in 2013. “I do not think it answers all the questions, but I think not to try it for two years is ridiculous,” he said.
L-S senior captain Mike Ciaffoni says Lopez was instrumental in his development to one of the state’s premier interior lineman
Two years ago, the 6-foot-3-inch, 265-pound lineman was just a scraggly 5-10, 180-pounder riding the bench, “but [Lopez] brought me along and I can’t thank him any more for that.”
“Coach Lopez has put an impact on me and my brother [Nick, a sophomore] that will last a lifetime,” said Ciaffoni, who recently flipped his commitment from the University of Massachusetts to BC.
“His presence is unbelievable.”