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Legendary Brother Rice coach Al Fracassa actually was the head coach at Shrine High School in Royal Oak before moving to the school in Birmingham. He coached at Shrine from 1960 to 1968. (Photo contributed)

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FOOTBALL: With end of coaching career near, a few honors still remain for Al Fracassa

Coach Al Fracassa gives Shrine captain Tom Martin some tips before the kickoff of the Knights’ 1968 homecoming game against St. Ambrose. Fracassa will be inducted in the Shrine Hall of Fame Saturday. (Photo contributed)

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As Brother Rice head football coach Al Fracassa winds down a truly remarkable career, it would seem there aren't too many honors left to give him. He's won countless Coach of the Year awards at the local, state and national levels and he's been enshrined in numerous Halls of Fame.

Fracassa will add to the list Saturday when he's inducted into the Shrine Catholic High School Hall of Fame.

"We've wanted to induct him for a few years now but our ceremony is always on a Saturday and Rice tends to play their games on Saturdays," said Shrine football coach John Goddard. "This year they play at Orchard Lake St. Mary's on Friday so it just worked out perfectly."

While Fracassa has become synonymous with Brother Rice football, leading the Warriors to nine state championships and putting hundreds of players into college football and a good number into the pros during his 45 years there, he began his head coaching career at Shrine.

With 421 victories, he ranks first all-time in Michigan and sixth nationally. The first 44 of those wins came with the Knights, where he led the football program from 1960-68.

"I was at Rochester High School as an assistant coach and I was looking for a place closer to my home and I thought it would be nice to get a head coaching job if I could find one," Fracassa said. "I found out that Shrine High School needed a coach and I went and interviewed with the late Father (Charles) Coughlin, a wonderful, strong man. My friend Marty Foley and I got there together and he became the basketball coach and I became the football coach. The boys there were very special from the beginning to the end."

Goddard was a sophomore when Fracassa first took over at Shrine.

"I remember our first week of practice, he was like a young Marine drill sergeant," Goddard said of Fracassa. "I looked over and some of our seniors couldn't get off the field, they were so tired from the conditioning drills. He's a no-nonsense guy. We had our 50th reunion and I've still never heard a former player of his say even one negative word about Coach. We idolized that man."

Fracassa led the Knights to a pair (1960 and 1963) of league championships while at Shrine. Back then, the league champs met in the Soup Bowl at the University of Detroit for the overall Catholic title. In 1960 the Knights lost to Catholic Central, while in 1963, they tied Notre Dame. There wasn't a high school overtime rule at the time but a winner had to be declared because that team would face the Detroit Public School League champion the next week at Tiger Stadium. It was decided before the game that if a tie occurred, the winner would be determined by total yards. Shrine lost by four yards.

Fracassa put many Shrine players in college football and even a few; Paul and Jim Seymour, Mike Haggerty, and Bill Simpson, made the NFL.

While all of that is great, what really distinguishes Fracassa from many of his peers is his willingness to help all his players find spots on college rosters if they really want it. His won-loss record and list of championships are easy to figure out. What's impossible to calculate is how many millions of dollars worth of free education for which he has been responsible.

"I still remember him coming up to me in the cafeteria one day my senior year," Goddard said. "He asked if I was still wanting to play college football. I said I'd love to but I knew I wasn't good enough. He told me he found a place, Northwood, where he thought I could play. I ended up getting some money from them for both football and baseball. He found Northwood for me."

In 1969 Fracassa left for Brother Rice, a bigger school but one that hadn't even been around for a decade at that point. "It was kind of sad when I left Shrine, I was wondering if maybe I shouldn't go," he said. "The only reason I left was I wanted to get into a Class A situation where you played the highest level of football. I wanted a bigger challenge."

Fracassa never coached against Brother Rice while at Shrine but he did face the Knights twice, both times in 1970, as head coach of the Warriors. They opened the season with a 10-10 tie. They met again in the Soup Bowl and the Knights beat their old mentor 18-0.

"That was such a big win for us," said Goddard, a Shrine assistant at the time. "It was played in a blizzard. It was the last football game ever played at the old U of D stadium. A month later it was torn down."

Fracassa has never taken his Shrine roots for granted.

"I loved my nine years there, they were very special," he said. "When I drive past there every day on my way to work I feel a sense of nostalgia and I say a little prayer because they were very good to me."

Always a humble man, Fracassa, honored to be going into the Shrine Hall of Fame, acknowledges it also provides a humorous reality check.

“I see the boys from Shrine today and I say 'how old are you?' and they'll say '67 or 68' and I'll say 'get out of here, I never coached kids that are now that old,'" Fracassa joked, "I'm looking forward to seeing my friend John Goddard and all my boys who I coached at Shrine. I'm really excited because all those guys are old, just like me."

Goddard, now in his 21st year as head coach of the Knights has tried to utilize the lessons learned from Fracassa over the years; and has a standing offer for him should he change his mind about retirement.

"When I first came back to Shrine I told the kids it was a privilege to play football for Shrine and we're going to make it always feel that way. That's what Coach did for us," remarked Goddard. "When you look at his record here, it isn't anything that jumps out. What he left is him, there's just something about him. I told him he can come back next year if he wants and be our quarterback coach, heck I'll step aside and be the assistant and he can be the head coach. Part of him still belongs to us, Rice can't have all of him."

The Shrine Hall of Fame induction ceremony is Saturday at 6 p.m. in Sanders Auditorium. Tickets are $35. For more information go to www.shrineknightalumni.com

Last Updated: 10/3/2013 4:04:36 AM EST


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