Dick MacPherson had a storied football coaching career that included a two-year stint as the head coach of the New England Patriots. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009 as a result of his stints as the head coach at the University of Massachusetts and Syracuse University.
And Old Town native MacPherson, who died of natural causes at the age of 86 on Tuesday at Crouse Hospital in Syracuse, New York, was always proud of his heritage.
“He was a true Mainer. He never forgot where he was from,” said Walter Abbott, who used to coach against MacPherson when he was the head football coach at the University of Maine. “Anywhere he went, he spread the good word about the state of Maine and the people of Maine.
“He was very, very proud of it,” added Abbott. “He was the most recognizable coach from the state.”
After a stellar playing career at Springfield College (Mass.), the charismatic MacPherson began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at the University of Illinois in 1958 and he went on to serve as an assistant coach at UMass, Cincinnati, Maryland and the National Football League’s Denver Broncos before becoming the head coach at UMass in 1971.
During his seven years at UMass, the Minutemen won or shared four Yankee Conference championships and posted an overall record of 45-27-1. They went 27-8-1 in conference play. His Minutemen won the Boardwalk Bowl in 1972.
He left to become the linebackers coach with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns before returning to the college ranks to take over as the head coach at Syracuse in 1981.
Syracuse had just three winning seasons in a decade prior to his arrival but MacPherson put the Orange on the map, compiling a 66-46-4 record in 10 seasons including an 11-0-1 record in the 1987-88 season when he was named the national coach of the year by six different organizations.
The fourth-ranked Orange and sixth-ranked Auburn University (Alabama) battled to a 16-16 tie in the Sugar Bowl that season.
Syracuse played in five bowl games under MacPherson, winning three and tying one. He guided the Orange to a 36-10-3 record his last four seasons.
He then went on to coach the New England Patriots in 1991 and ‘92, 6-10 and 2-14 before being fired.
“He will be missed tremendously,” said Bangor native and University of New Hampshire defensive line coach Peter McCarty, who was an All-YC linebacker for MacPherson at UMass and was a captain his senior year.
“He left a great impression on my career. Without him, I’m nowhere,” said McCarty. “I owe a great deal to him.
“He was an outstanding coach. He did a great job at UMass and then he turned the Syracuse program around,” said McCarty. “He helped a lot of players, including players with behind-the-scenes issues. He dealt with them very well. He always felt a guy deserved a second chance.”
“He had an outstanding career,” said Abbott. “You think about all the honors and all the Halls of Fame he is in, they are all very well-deserved.”
In addition to being in the College Football and Old Town High School Halls of Fame, he is also a member of the Maine Sports Hall of Fame and the Springfield College Hall.
Abbott called him a “very, very dear friend” and a “very genuine person.
“He was such a homebody and such a family man and that spread to his players. And he had such a memory for names. He never forgot anybody,” said Abbott.
“He knew everybody and he treated everyone in a high-class manner,” said McCarty. “He treated you like you had been his friend for years.”
Abbott said MacPherson used to send his sons Steve and Scott “big CARE packages every year” that included all kinds of football equipment like shoes and helmets.
“He would (write) ‘I know those Orono boys can’t afford it’,” chuckled Abbott who noted that MacPherson would tell Abbott’s sons to share the equipment with their Orono High teammates.
Abbott added that MacPherson always had a fondness for donuts from LaBree’s Bakery in Old Town.
MacPherson was a 1948 graduate of Old Town High School where he was a standout athlete. He attended Maine Maritime Academy briefly before joining the Air Force and serving until 1954. He went on to play football at Springfield College before starting his coaching career at Illinois.
Following his coaching career, MacPherson supplied color commentary during radio broadcasts of Syracuse football games.
MacPherson is survived by his wife, Sandra; daughters Maureen and Janet and his four grandchildren.