The public outpouring in the wake of Danny Algeo's passing Thursday is both sad and touching, two emotions that intertwine when we're faced with losing someone who was much more than a father, brother, son, friend, coach and teacher.
As reporters, we're supposed to distance ourselves from those feelings. They shouldn't get in the way of doing a job, which is to tell the story of a man that was admired by so many, who exited this world without so much as a warning, leaving a school and community in mourning. At age 49, Danny Algeo's farewell tribute came far too early.
And that's what made it so hard to write.
Though Algeo's influence comes into focus now that he has passed, it didn't take Thursday's news that he had died from complications of a heart attack to appreciate his legacy in the Cardinal O'Hara community. It was plain as day. He earned the respect of anyone who crossed his path. That even holds true for reporters, whose job is to probe coaches about their strategies for winning football games and question their decisions when they lose. Algeo handled it all with class.
One of the perks of being the high school football beat writer for the Daily Times is the open invitation to get to know more about the coaches who work tirelessly to prepare their teams for those autumn Friday nights. Algeo loved his players and took great pride in building a successful program.
Every Monday night during the season, the Delaware County Football Coaches Association holds its weekly awards meeting, honoring the best individual performances from the previous weekend. A story is published online and in the newspaper from those gatherings. It's a reporter's chance to socialize and talk shop with coaches, which is a pretty awesome gig. Getting the chance to see more of Algeo off the gridiron was a real treat. Even when an interview wasn't requested, Algeo would go out of his way to say hello.
Prior to games, you could count on Algeo to greet you with a firm handshake. He thanked you for being there, asked how things were going, told you he'd talk to you after the game, and went on with his business.
Algeo always gave reporters the time of day, no matter the situation, whether it was after an overtime defeat to Bonner-Prendergast in last year's Catholic League playoffs or a lopsided loss to Archbishop Wood. Sometimes, he had a tough time shielding his emotions. He chose his words carefully, at least when addressing the press, but willingly shared his thoughts.
Normally the first words out of his mouth were, simply, "Give them credit." Algeo often would tip his cap to the other guys. He would use words and phrases such as "special' and "a phenomenal talent' to describe players from opposing teams. He wanted you to know that he was proud of his kids regardless of the outcome and had enormous respect for the other sideline.
So much of what made Danny Algeo a great person were the little things that, until now, might have gone unnoticed.
"He never had a bad word to say about anyone," said Bonner-Prendergast head coach Greg "Bubba" Bernhardt, a close friend and former assistant under Algeo.
"The message was always the same," All-Delco wide receiver Corey Brown said, crediting Algeo as one of the first people to truly believe in his potential. "... Whether we were going to the Idaho Bowl or the Orange Bowl, it was always the same message, that 'you were the best player on the field.'"
Algeo's influence extended to his players well after their time on the gridiron ended. At a vigil to remember in the late coach Thursday night, several players praised Algeo's role in helping them move toward a future in coaching.
Among them is Damiere Shaw, a 2012 All-Delco whose playing career at Temple was cut short due to a recurrence of concussions. Not only did Algeo constantly keep abreast of Shaw's health, which has greatly improved of late, Algeo also provided tips on the transition to coaching. Shaw's scholarship is being honored as a student assistant with the Owls, where he was a 2013 Athletic Director's Honor Roll recipient.
Also joining Algeo's camps for this summer is Brown, the All-Delco wide receiver who just finished his career at Ohio State and signed a free-agent deal with the Carolina Panthers.
Brown is well aware that his playing days will end eventually and that coaching is a long-term plan. When that realization dawned, Algeo was the first person to whom he turned.
To hear Brown discuss the honor of Algeo letting him call plays at a seven-on-seven camp last week, one that proved to be among the last Algeo ever presided over, underscores the weight of trust between the two.
"Coach Algeo knew I wanted to be a coach, and he gave me my first opportunity on the seven-on-seven just to call the plays," he said. "That was fun, and he also gave me the opportunity to work with kids at the speed camp as well."
While the last two seasons of O'Hara football were challenging in terms of wins and losses, Algeo never wavered and never lost his drive and passion. Ultimately, it wasn't a Catholic League championship or a state title he sought. It was his duty to see fit that anyone who stepped foot inside Camp Algeo left well-prepared for the journey called life.
Algeo succeeded in that regard, time and again.
Danny Algeo will be missed.
To contact high school football beat writer Matt Smith, email firstname.lastname@example.org.