The questions are obvious: In his 70 years on this planet, 42 of which have been spent as a high school football coach, how does Brockton (Mass.) High's Armand Colombo still find the enthusiasm not only for coaching, but also for teaching physical education? How does he maintain the energy level needed to coach one of the very best programs in the northeast, especially when most men his age have long since retired and are content to view football as spectators?
"The only time I realize that I'm old is when I talk with people like you," Colombo chuckled during a recent interview. "I love what I do ... it's the only thing I wanted to do.
"The people here at Brockton High make it a very enjoyable job. The way I look at it, I'm a kid who's involved in a kid's game. And the kids are a major, major reason for my longevity. Most of my time's spent with them, appreciating what they've done while they're with us and after they've graduated (in terms of) seeing what they've gone on to do."
Good point — that you're only as old as you feel and not as old as you are. But that's only part of Colombo's story. Another very significant part is he's the best at what he does in the history of Massachusetts high school football.
Colombo, whose brother-in-law was Rocky Marciano (the only heavyweight champion to retire undefeated), was the head coach for 13 years (two separate stints) at Archbishop Williams in Braintree before returning home for good at Brockton. Last fall, he broke the state record for most wins in a career and ended the season with a mark of 308 wins, 96 losses and 5 ties.
Oh, yes, one other point: Colombo has compiled this record while coaching in Division I—the state's top division. And since the inception of Super Bowls by the MIAA in 1972, he's won a state-record nine bowls while losing five (all at Brockton).
Want more? When the Boxers played in the old Suburban League, Colombo's teams compiled 15 championships. Since the Big Three was formed 11 years ago, Brockton has captured seven titles.
But all that's in the past now because Colombo is focused on rebounding from only the third losing season in his illustrious career. Focused on bringing a team that featured only 13 seniors on a 55-man roster back into the winner's circle.
"We were 5-6, which was horrendous," he said. "I want to wipe that out. Now, in reality, I've learned it's impossible to win them all. But after a season like last year, it makes you appreciate it even more when you win a championship. You almost have to experience what it's like on the other side when you do win."
Winning, of course, was something Marciano did better than any other man in the history of boxing (Brockton's football field is named after the city's favorite son, who died in a plane crash on August 31, 1969).
"That's where this whole thing comes from," said Tom Pileski, who's been at the school for 35 years (the last 15 as director of athletics) and who played baseball for Colombo in 1960. "Like Rocky used to say, when you can't make the commitment, they don't call you champ any more.
"Armand has that same commitment, that same philosophy. Last year was so disappointing that he's looking forward to next season with great anticipation because he doesn't take losing easily."
That doesn't mean Colombo's a tyrant, a my-way-or-the-highway type of coach.
"Sure, he becomes animated and emotional, but not to the extent that he belittles anyone," said Pileski. "It's not a Woody Hayes type of situation. People who just see him on game days think he's a vociferous individual. But he doesn't run highly-charged practices. It's low key during the week."
Actually, it's low key year round, unlike in various hotbeds around the country where it's football 12 months a year. Period.
"To demand 12 months a year of effort may be ideal in some programs, but I'd rather see a kid play basketball or baseball or hockey," said Colombo. "Our best back last year, Tyrone Pruitt, runs outdoor track and is on the basketball team. That's more important to him than lifting weights.
"Our weight room is open five days a week during the summer—for all our athletes—and that's adequate. I don't fully agree with programs that have kids in there 12 months a year. After all, I'm not a football coach every minute of the day."
But Colombo will listen and talk with the boys at Brockton—boys at all talent levels—virtually any time during the course of a day. That's another reason for the high esteem in which he's held.
"I had a kid last year … who came to me just before our first game and said he had certain obligations to fulfill because he had his mind set on going to West Point," recalled Colombo. "He was a borderline player but he came to me like a man and told me what he wanted to do. And he got appointed to West Point, which was great.
"We tell the kids if it's becomes a job to them and they don't enjoy coming into the locker room every day, just tell the coach your reason for leaving the team and that's fine."
That's another way of saying Colombo expects teenagers to take responsibility for their actions, instead of evaporating into thin air, because it goes a long way toward developing character. And for the hundreds of players who've suited up in Brockton's black and red, character occupies a prominent spot in the locker room.
"Coping with the ups and downs is what it's all about," said Colombo. "It isn't an easy road. How do you deal with the bumps? If you want to quit, you haven't learned the lesson that has to be learned."
"Armand never quits on any kid," Pileski said.
"We really have been fortunate," said Columbo. "Whatever we start out with we finish up with."
There are, of course, certain tangible reasons for Colombo's success. As Pileski points out, "Armand has run the wishbone, the pro-I, the power-I and so on. He's seen it all. But there are some people who only know one way and won't conform. He knows what's the proper offense and the proper defense to run with a particular group of individuals.
"Besides that, he tries to motivate kids in an extremely positive manner. The reality of it is his teams have been so successful because they work in harmony."
In a sense, working in harmony began in the home for Colombo, whose wife of 47 years, Betty, is one of Marciano's three sisters. Together, they raised six children: Peter (a Holy Cross grad who's now an assistant with his father); twins Donald (Brown) and Danny (Northeastern); Charles (Harvard); Tommy (Villanova); and Beth. Not surprisingly, Colombo treats his players like his family, another trait derived from Marciano.
"I remember talking with him and he always mentioned the fact that he respected everyone he got into the ring with," added Colombo. "We always preach to the kids that you should have respect for your fellow players, your coaches, the other team. Rocky never lost because of the type of individual he was and we want our kids to be the same way."
Especially when it comes to respecting the coach, a man who's 70 going on 35.
Story courtesy of Red Line Editorial, Inc.