Angelo Coia spent a lot of his life in big-time football. After a college career at the University of Southern California, he played in the National Football League from 1960 to ’66, catching more than 2,000 yards worth of passes and 20 touchdowns for the Chicago Bears, Washington Redskins and Atlanta Falcons.
Then after he retired as a player, Coia was a scout for the NFL’s Oakland Raiders for years.
But when he moved to Brigantine full-time in 2006 — where he and his wife, Connie, already had a vacation place — Angelo got into just about the smallest of small-time football. He volunteered to coach the Brigantine Rams’ junior varsity, mostly 10- and 11-year-old kids with no idea who he was.
He didn’t care, Connie and his fellow coaches say. He loved working with the kids anyway, and did that until just a few months before he died Jan. 2, at 74.
Mike Morgan, the Rams’ varsity coach, admits that even he didn’t know who Coia was when the old pro offered to coach in his new hometown.
“He was obviously pretty knowledgeable,” Morgan said, “but a lot of guys know about football. Coach Angie ... knew how to coach. He was a very, very gentle person. He had a way of talking so that the kids listened.”
The standard image of football coaches isn’t so gentle, as plenty of us will likely see again Sunday in the Super Bowl. But Coia really was a quiet guy.
“He was so unassuming, so soft-spoken, he didn’t ... want any attention,”said his neighbor, friend and fellow Rams coach, Jason Klemm. “He was coaching with humility, which is how he led his life.”
Klemm, 36, had to ask to get Angelo talking about his old football days.
“He was as genuinely interested in hearing about youth football games as I was in hearing his stories about playing with Mike Ditka,” Klemm marvels.
But Frank Tedeschi, Angelo’s brother-in-law and best friend, wasn’t surprised to hear that Coia wanted to coach kids here. Because Coia did the same thing in Philadelphia, where he grew up. He coached the Liberty Bell Youth Football team from 1974 to ’84, and “I never saw him holler at the kids,” said Tedeschi, who still lives in Philadelphia, and enjoyed visiting his old buddy in Brigantine.
The Coias loved the town too.
“From the first minute we saw Brigantine, we felt like it was paradise,” Connie said.
Angelo eventually died of a blood disorder, but his wife, a nurse, thinks “coaching was good for his health.” The Rams got him out of the house and kept his mind active — so active, he’d go home to her after games and try to break down what went right and wrong.
His fellow coaches are happy if coaching was good for Angelo. And they’re sure he was good for Brigantine’s kids.
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