Story by Pat Caputo:
Ted Fox, captain of the 1974 Birmingham Brother Rice High School state championship football team, anticipated the response when he and numerous other of Al Fracassa’s former players approached him with their idea.
“Coach Fracassa is comfortable and happy in retirement,” Fox said. “This was totally our idea. We were determined to do this for him, and eventually he gave us his blessing.”
The idea is establishing a supplemental retirement fund, established solely by Fracassa’s former players.
How much are Fracassa’s former players, both from Brother Rice and Royal Oak Shrine, expecting to raise?
“Conservatively, we’re hoping $200,000,” Fox said.
“Many of us, who have played for Coach Fracassa, have gone on to have success in our lives, a lot of it financially. How often do you think, ‘I wish I could pay back that person for all they have done for me,’ but then the thought leaves your mind.
“We can never pay him back fully for all Coach Fracassa has done for us, but we’re trying.”
It’s an unusual concept that wasn’t fully embraced initially by Fracassa, 80, whose retirement has been widely celebrated and very emotional after Brother Rice won the state title in the fall. He had been the head coach at Brother Rice since 1969. Before that, he was at Royal Oak Shrine, starting in 1960. He is the winningest high school football coach in the history of Michigan.
“It’s been a wonderful time,” Fracassa said. “I can’t tell you how much it has meant to me with all these former players coming back and honoring me, not just the great All-Americans, but all our players, some who hardly played for us, but contributed so much. It’s unbelievable. I love them so much.
“This isn’t, (the retirement fund) isn’t something I wanted or asked for and I expressed that. I’m happy and comfortable. I love my life. My players – they gave me more than I could ever give them, believe me. Sometimes I think, ‘Oh, this is nice, but it’s just too much.’ But they were like when they played for me on the field, very persistent. They wouldn’t let it go.”
Fox said it should be understood the degree of Fracassa’s loyalty to his players.
“He had several opportunities to leave for much better paying positions in college and the NFL,” Fox said. “He could have made a lot more money at a public school and had a better retirement package. Yet, he stuck by his players. It’s no secret the pay scale at parochial schools, and the retirement benefits, are not nearly what they are for public school teachers.”
Fracassa taught history at Brother Rice, in addition to coaching (he was also the baseball coach for decades).
In the early 1980s, Fracassa was pursued by Michigan State football coach Muddy Waters to be the Spartans’ offensive coordinator. Then George Perles, who replaced Waters, offered him a spot on his offensive staff. Around that same period, Monte Clark offered Fracassa the spot as the Lions’ backfield coach.
And if Fracassa had decided to leave Brother Rice or Shrine, it’s no secret higher-paying public school jobs would have been his for the choosing because he wasn’t only respected for winning, but for being innovative, while displaying uncommon personal character and charisma.
To this day, Fracassa’s eyes well with tears when he talks about leaving Shrine for Brother Rice.
Fox said roughly 50 percent of those contributing to the fund played for Fracassa at Shrine.
Fracassa has lived in the same modest home in mostly working class Warren for 54 years. He says he will not move.
“It’s a simple home, sure, but it’s a fine house,” Fracassa said. “My wife, Phyllis, and I have been married nearly 58 years. We raised four children in this home. It’s been good to us.”
Fracassa would like to visit Italy someday. “Phyllis and I are both of Italian heritage and we’d like to visit Rome, where our families are from.”
Even in retirement, Fracassa’s schedule is full. The University of Michigan will honor Fracassa with the first award it is establishing for distinguished high school football coaches. He has already been invited to three weddings of his former players slated for this summer.
Sometime in late July or early August, he will take Phyllis up north for their annual vacation.
“I will miss coaching. How can I not?” Fracassa said. “But I will be at every game, sitting up in the stands and staying way out of the way and being very supportive. I’ve heard these are the best years of your life. I plan on enjoying them.”
It’s the goal of his former players to make sure Fracassa does.
“We’re making sure he is not wanting for anything,” Fox said.
In fact, they insist.