The South Jersey football community is mourning the passing of legendary football coach Tom Curley, who died Saturday morning at age 86 due to complications from surgery a year ago.
Curley was one of South Jersey’s winningest coaches with a 114-83-1 career record at Audubon and Haddon Township High Schools that lasted until 1983, but his tenure extended well beyond his coaching days.
In retirement, the former coach served on the Boards of Directors for both The South Jersey Football Coaches Hall of Fame (SJFCA) and the Adam Taliaferro Foundation (ATF). He served as Game Director of the Annual ATF All-Star Football Classic at Rowan University since the early 2000s and helped to build the contest into one of South Jersey’s most recognizable games for graduating senior athletes.
Curley, a native of Wilkes Barre, PA, retired from coaching football in 1983, but his legacy is honored each year with the awarding of the Curley Cup, awarded annually to the winner of the Audubon vs. Haddon Township Thanksgiving football game.
“Coach Curley was a great friend, coach and ambassador to all of us in the South Jersey football community, and especially to the Adam Taliaferro Foundation and the South Jersey Coaches Association,” said ATF President Tom Iacovone. “He will be greatly missed, and our prayers go out to his family.”
Former Woodbury High School and Eastern Regional football skipper Larry Ginsburg coached against Curley in the late 1970s and 1980s, and found his former colleague to be one worthy opponent.
“He was a great motivator of kids and planned his games well,” said Ginsburg, now retired. “He was one tough customer. He always had his teams ready. And if your team wasn’t prepared, you had a long afternoon."
At the same time, Ginsburg noted, Curley always rallied his fellow coaching colleagues together.
"Tom was the organizer, the field general for all of the coaches off the field," Ginsburg said. "He made sure we all got together to enjoy ourselves and get to know each other. I knew Tom for 40 years and he did so much for my career. I could never thank him enough."
Curley’s 114 career wins included three South Jersey Group 2 playoffs appearances in the early 1980s while head coach at Haddon Township.
In an interview last spring, Curley recalled one of his greatest coaching moments on the sideline. It came during a 1980 South Jersey Group 2 playoff game against Delsea, and former Crusaders’ coach John Oberg, one of the state’s all-time winningest coaches. A defending sectional champion at the time, Delsea entered the contest unbeaten and with giant tackle and UCLA-bound Dave Baran (6 feet, 9 inches) in the starting lineup.
But it was the Hawks, behind quarterback Steve Brady and a defense led by tackle Steve Martin and Mike Ragone, who walked off the field that afternoon with a stunning upset that carried them into the Group 2 championship game.
“I remember leading the kids out for warmups, and then here comes this Delsea team sprinting out from across the way,” Curley recalled. “Holy cow – we didn’t have anyone half the size of Dave Baran! And most of their kids were flat out bigger than all my players.
“I don’t know how we pulled it off, but my kids just played off the charts that day. They just refused to lose and I was proud of them!”
Aside from his service with the South Jersey Football Coaches Association and the Taliaferro Foundation, Curley was a member of the SJFCA Coaches Hall of Fame. He was set to be inducted into the Camden County Sports Hall of Fame this Fall.
Curley is survived by his wife, Mary Alice; daughters Suzanne McFarland, Mary Pat Mignogna, Maureen Bruno, Kathleen Zelinsky, and Molly Fleming, and son Patrick.
The visitation will be held at the Blake Doyle Funeral Home in Collingswood on Thursday evening starting at 5 pm. Funeral services will be held at St. John’s Church in Collingswood on Friday morning starting at 10:30 am.
Family members request donations be made to the Adam Taliaferro Foundation, P.O. Box 8232, Turnersville, NJ, 08012. They ask that the memo be filled in as, “In memory of Tom Curley.”