Ex-players, coaches rally around Coen
Football family gathers to support ex-Lehigh coach amid his health battle
For 33 seasons as a football coach, Andy Coen preached to his players about the need to come together as a family.
On Monday afternoon at the Steel Club in Hellertown, Coen’s football family came together for the former coach and it was much larger than he anticipated.
Coen, who spent 13 seasons as the head coach at Lehigh
University before resigning after the 2018 season due to the diagnosis of the early-onset
Alzheimer’s disease, got to see many of his former players, fellow coaches, and former teammates during the golf tournament.
They came from Cherry Hill East High School in New Jersey and Gettysburg College where Coen was a talented offensive lineman in the 1980s.
They came from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy where Coen coached from 1990-93 and from the University of Pennsylvania where he coached from 2000-2005 and they came from his first stint at Lehigh as a line coach and offensive coordinator from 1994-99 and, of course, his time as the Mountain Hawks head coach from 2006-2018.
Coen was stationed at the 13th tee and got to tee off with his buddies while sharing hugs, handshakes and good memories.
While his memory has been affected by Alzheimer’s, Coen recognized and chatted with everybody and was touched by them being there for an event in his honor.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s so great so all of these guys.”
The event was arranged largely through the efforts of retired Lehigh University police chief Ed Shupp.
Shupp said all 144 golfing slots filled quickly and approximately 200 people planned to attend the post-golf banquet, which was set to feature the auctioning of 210 items ranging from autographed footballs and helmets to free rounds of golf for foursomes at legendary venues such as Baltusrol and Merion.
CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz, whose father died of Alzheimer’s, sent a video tribute.
“There are people here from Texas, Florida, California … they came in from everywhere for this guy,” Shupp said. “I’ve known Andy for more than 20 years since he was an assistant coach in the 1990s. He is a great guy, a true gentleman. He became a great friend of mine. I am sorry he’s going through what he’s going through, but we’ll do anything we can to help him out.”
Before one swing was taken, Shupp said $80,000 was raised which will all go the Coen family, which includes wife Laura and children Molly, Nolan and Finn.
Shupp expected the fundraising total to rise significantly after the memorabilia auction.
Some of the items came from the Kansas City Chiefs. Both Shupp and Coen became friends of Chiefs coach Andy Reid during the years the Eagles used Lehigh as their training camp home when Reid was the head coach.
Items signed by Saquon Barkley, Patrick Mahomes, Eli Manning, Dabo Sweeney and new Pro Football Hall of Famer and Green Bay Packers legend Jerry Kramer.
While plenty of funds were raised, the encounters with his former players were priceless for Coen.
Brian McDonald, who was an AllAmerica selection at Lehigh as an offensive lineman in 2000, and Jonathan Stiegler shared a long embrace with Coen during their stop at the 13th tee.
“I was an offensive guard and I had him as my coach for three seasons and then he left in my senior year for Penn and I was so bleeping mad,” McDonald said. “Penn came in for our first home game and I refused to talk to him because I was still mad. As soon as the game the was over, I went right over to him and we hugged and talked. I love that guy.”
What made him Coen special as a line coach?
“He was a throwback in a game that lionizes throwbacks,” McDonald said. “It was hard to play for him. He demanded the best from you. But he was always fair. I loved every second playing for him. He deserves all of our affection and we’re all going to go out of our way to beat this thing for this guy. He’s a special guy.”
Coen was also a special teammate a decade earlier playing as a guard on a championship Gettysburg team for coaching legend Barry Streeter.
Coen was a part of Gettysburg’s three consecutive Centennial Conference championship teams from 1983 to 1985 that was capped off by an appearance in the NCAA Division III semifinals in 1985.
From 1983-85, he coached the Bullets through three straight Centennial Conference championships, capping it off with an appearance in the 1985 NCAA Division III National Championship and moving to the semifinals.
“When game day came around, Andy was the guy you wanted to have standing next to you or playing next to you,” said Coen’s offensive line teammate Mike McDyer. “No matter what it took, Andy got the job done and he had your back. It’s tough to measure how well an offensive line does but we helped to produce two All-America running backs by how well we played up front. We had a tough, competitive team every year and Andy was a big part of that. We had a lot of grit.”
Of course, Coen’s grit showed through good times and tough times at Lehigh. He never wavered in his commitment and belief in the players he brought to South Mountain and he often showed emotion on whether he was celebrating a league championship win at Georgetown or a crushing defeat to Lafayette at Yankee Stadium.
Coen finished his career with 85 wins, tying him with Bill Leckonby for most victories in Lehigh football history.
He was a two-time Patriot League coach of the year and his Mountain Hawks teams won five league titles and produced 135 all-Patriot League selections, six Patriot League major award winners, 25 All-America honorees, 10 CoSIDA Academic All-District choices, two CoSIDA Academic All-Americans and 236 Patriot League Academic Honor Roll selections.
Coen always put the interests of others first and earned the respect of his players as well as his coaching colleagues at Lehigh.
“We talked all the time,” said renowned Lehigh wrestling coach Pat Santoro said. “I loved stopping by his office and we’d talk some football, some wrestling and a lot about life. He’s one of the good people in the world.”
While his primary concern is his healthy, Coen has stayed involved in the game he loves by helping out at as a volunteer assistant at Allentown Central Catholic, which is coached by Tim McGorry. McGorry was Lehigh’s receivers coach the past two years.
“I’m having fun over there when I can get there,” he said. “Paul Hagadus and those guys do a great job. I’ve never coached high school before. It’s kids and it’s football. What can be better than that?”
Lehigh’s director of athletics partnership Bob Amundson, left, football assistant coach, longtime Southside Boosters member Chip Walakovits, former head coach Andy Coen, longtime assistant coach Donnie Roberts and Lehigh’s retired Senior Associate Director of Athletics Bill Griffin take a timeout for a photo at the Andy Coen Golf Outing on Monday at the Steel Club.