About Coach McCluskey
By Jim Raykie
Editor, The Sharon (Pa.) Herald
It was a simple entry in Thursday's Flashback on The Herald sports pages:
"Coaching legend Eddie McCluskey, 71, dies in Sharon General Hospital after
a brief illness. McCluskey led Farrell High cagers to 7 state titles and
compiled a 698-185 career record at Farrell, Burgettstown and Kennedy
Thursday marked the 20th anniversary of "Coach's" death, and the anniversary
of one of the toughest stories I have written in my nearly 33-year career at
The Herald - writing Mac's obit.
I considered it the ultimate compliment, but nevertheless, wondered if I
could adequately pay tribute to the man who meant so much to a town,
players, fans, and in general, the game. I've sinced determined that's an
I was a little kid in the 1950s and 1960s and was introduced to Farrell
basketball by my late father, who had talked about McCluskey's magic around
our house long before I set foot in the gymnasium that graced Roemer
Boulevard and today bears his name.
Not everyone can understand this - I know some other Farrell folks do - but
I was awed by McCluskey, as a youngster, a student, and an adult, as if
indeed he had some magic at this fingertips. Maybe it was because I had
heard so much about him before we had the chance to meet. But I look back on
that span with great reverence.
My relationship with the Coach was different than that of a lot of my
friends. They played for him, and endured his demands that built most of
them into champions, both on and off the field.
In my conversations later in life with most of the legends who played for
McCluskey, it took a progression into adult life before realizing the impact
that he had upon them. Talk to people like Julius McCoy, Jim McCoy, Brian
Generalovich, Don Jones, Jack Marin, Jim Kollar, Lou Mastrian, Frank Sincek
and the litany of others and you'll find out.
I was never good enough at the game to wear a Farrell basketball uniform,
but I was a hoops junkie nonetheless, and enjoyed watching him coach as much
as watching friends like the late Dave Johnson and Barry Canterna, Randy
Crowder, Jerome Nixon, Nicky Cannone and others play for him.
I was a regular at practice for years, spending hours watching players march
to the tune of a drill sergeant, every minute accounted for, not one of them
wasted. And it could be entertaining as well - like the time when he was
getting ready to play for one of his 11 WPIAL championships.
The opponents were tall and played a lot of zone, and true to form, Coach
pulled out an old practice trick and had his defenders armed with brooms on
the flanks, making his starting guards shoot over them. It was the same
tactic he used when preparing his team to play against Philadelphia
Overbrook and Wilt Chamberlain 20 years earlier.
Of course the strategy worked, the Steelers won again, and had been prepared
as usual for anything that was thrown their way. In his 28-year career at
Farrell, he finished with 574 wins and 153 losses. Other stops at tiny
Burgettstown and later to Kennedy Christian pushed that record to 698-185.
Some of my fondest memories of Coach were the stories he shared after he had
retired from the hardwood. Farrell's late athletic director, Joe Duich, the
late Dr. Harry Elston, Jimmy Tamber and I took regular trips with him to
watch the Steelers after Sincek had taken the reins. McCluskey was a man
revered no matter where we traveled; when you traveled with him, you were
treated as royalty.
I remember Coach telling me a great story as if it was yesterday. He had
heard that Farrell was looking for a football coach, and came to interview
with the Farrell board and Superintendent John Hetra in the late 1940s. He
left his car parked on Roemer Boulevard, his wife Anne waiting inside for
The board told him they were going to have a basketball opening as well. "I
told them it didn't matter which job. I was interested in either one of
them, but that I had come for the football job," McCluskey told me one day.
After the interview, during which he told the board in clear terms what he
expected from them if hired as the coach, he left without much hope of being
"When I got back to the car, Anne asked me how it went. I told her, 'We can
forget this one, they won't hire me, they didn't like what I told them,' and
we headed back to Burgettstown. The next day, I got a call from Mr. Hetra.
He told me that he knew that I had applied for the football job, but that he
wanted me to take the basketball job instead. That's how I ended up in
Burgettstown's loss was Farrell's gain. It has been nearly 30 years since he
coached at Farrell, and 20 years since his death, but his legacy lives. It
lives not only through his phenomenal record, but through the lives of
people he touched, like the McCoys, Kollar, Generalovich, Marin, Sincek,
Mastrian and the others. One can only wonder how the face of basketball
would have changed at both the local and state levels had the Farrell board
not hired him as its next cage coach.
Farrell has been blessed throughout the years with many leading citizens,
and some great coaches. But in my opinion, no one left an indelible mark the
scope of McCluskey's. He put Farrell on the map. The torch was passed long
ago to others to keep it there.