SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Dick MacPherson enjoyed tremendous success during his long and distinguished career as a football coach.
The contributions of the Old Town native, whose head coaching stops included the University of Massachusetts, Syracuse University and the New England Patriots, are many.
MacPherson was honored Saturday during a reception at the Sheraton hotel prior to the Maine-Syracuse football game.
“To think that I represent something of the highest in the state of Maine and its football programs, when I am so indebted to so many, many football coaches, is really, really a hard thing to do and a hard thing to believe,” MacPherson said. “Can you visualize how much fun that I had?”
The Harold Alfond Foundation sponsored the event, which recognized MacPherson’s December enshrinement into the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame. He is the first Maine coach to be so honored.
“Do you understand how lucky I was to have this kind of a job, have this kind of a wife [Sandra] and to meet a person like Harold Alfond?” MacPherson asked.
The NFF also will administer the Richard MacPherson Coaching Fund, which was established recently to advance coaching quality and football programs in Maine by making an annual award for football coaching education and/or football program support.
About 40 of MacPherson’s family, friends, former players, peers and fans turned out to fete the former coach, who turns 79 in November.
Among those who spoke about MacPherson were University of Maine President Robert Kennedy, Syracuse assistant athletic director and former Orange lineman Chris Gedney, former UMaine and Denver Broncos player and Waterville native John Huard, former UMaine football coach Walter Abbott, former NFF president Bob Casciola and Alfond Foundation chairman Greg Powell.
The tributes included heart-felt thanks and some amusing anecdotes from MacPherson’s career in football.
“The highest achievement a coach can have in college football is to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame,” Casciola said.
Powell, with Ted Alfond, Bill Alfond and Susan Alfond present, announced a $50,000 matching grant by the Alfond Foundation for the MacPherson Coaching Fund.
Powell shared what he called the late Harold Alfond’s favorite story about MacPherson.
In 1988 MacPherson’s Syracuse team was in State College, Pa., to play Penn State. MacPherson, a devout Catholic, attended Mass the previous night at Our Lady of Victory Church in State College.
Initially, MacPherson and the priest were the only people in the church. Later, he noticed a man sitting five rows behind him — Penn State coach Joe Paterno, a parishioner there.
“Good luck tomorrow,” Paterno mouthed to MacPherson.
The coaches exited separately. On the way out, Paterno stopped and lit a prayer candle. MacPherson did likewise.
Outside, halfway down the steps, MacPherson paused as Paterno walked toward his car.
“Coach Mac turns around, goes back into the church and, facing the altar, he whispers, ‘forgive me, Father.’ And he turns around and blows out Joe’s candle,” Powell said.
Syracuse won the game 24-10.
There were several UMaine athletics donors and boosters in the audience. Kennedy unveiled a beautifully-wrapped box that contained a MacPherson favorite from LaBree’s Bakery in Old Town.
“Donuts, donuts!” MacPherson exclaimed.
“We at the University of Maine, along with everyone in Old Town, Orono and Bangor and the entire state of Maine, really take great pride in Dick MacPherson,” Kennedy said.
Gedney, Huard and Abbott spoke on behalf of the men who played for MacPherson.
“What came first was coach Mac’s passion for God, for family, for community and for self,” Gedney said.
The purpose of the MacPherson coaching fund is to support:
1. Funding scholarships awards to football coaches to participate in or funding the costs and expenses of programs for coaching education offered by the Maine Center for Sport and Coaching at the University of Maine, or similar coaching education programs.
2. Awards recognizing achievements and excellence in football coaching at public secondary schools throughout the state of Maine.
3. Awards in support of new youth football programs at public secondary schools throughout the state of Maine.
“Our goal was to do something special for Mac, do so something special in his name to create something legendary that will benefit kids and coaches in his state, Maine,” Casciola said.
Doations may be sent to: Richard MacPherson Coaching Fund, National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame, 433 E. Las Colinas Blvd., Suite 1130, Irving, TX 75039.