- Scott Barboza, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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DANVERS, Mass. – After longtime St. John’s Prep football head coach Jim O’Leary announced his retirement from coaching earlier this week, the school named former Eagles star quarterback Brian St. Pierre as successor Friday morning.
The Boston College product and 8-year NFL pro becomes just the third coach to head Prep’s program in the last 47 years, following Fred Glatz (17 seasons) and O’Leary (30 seasons).
Beyond his gridiron exploits, St. Pierre’s connection to the program runs deep. His father, David, was the Eagles’ team physician, so the 34-year-old Salem native has been on Prep’s sidelines from before the time he could walk.
St. Pierre continued his time with the Eagles last season, as an assistant coach under O’Leary, following his retirement from the NFL.
“The memories of my formative years were on the sideline at St. John’s Prep,” St. Pierre said during a press conference on Friday. “This place is very special to me. Playing for Coach [O’Leary] was one of the best experiences of my life. I played football for a while, but the memories I have playing for him, here, stand out as much as any that I ever had.”
Following his pro career, St. Pierre weighed other coaching opportunities at the college level and in the NFL, along with a stint working as a sideline reporter for BC football radio broadcasts.
But the previous year, spent back at his alma mater, brought St. Pierre full circle.
“The year I had this year, as an assistant coach, was as fun as I’ve had in football in a long time,” St. Pierre said. “I understand it’s time, but I’m sad that after 30 years it’s over for [O’Leary], but he knows that I want him around the program as much as possible and he’ll be a huge benefit and resource for me to have him still on campus in the A.D. role.”
O’Leary said he’d considered stepping away from coaching “thirty times” before, but decided the moment was appropriate after three decades at the helm and with his responsibilities as Prep’s athletic director increasing.
He compiled a career record of 207-11-2, with 24 winning seasons. During O’Leary’s tenure, the Eagles won nine Catholic Conference titles, making six Super Bowl appearances, including a pair of wins in 1997 – with St. Pierre under center – and 2001.
“I’ve been blessed with great players, not just the great ones who went on to play in the NFL,” O’Leary said, gesturing toward St. Pierre, “but the little guys who didn’t play much and every day who made the program great. The good players would have been good no matter they’d went, but those guys — the special teams players — and there’s hundreds of those guys who came to practice every day, put up with my nonsense and bought in. They made us successful.”
Before introducing St. Pierre, O’Leary took to time to thank his wife, Doris, and his children, Emily and Michael, for having supported him during his time spent focused on matters of football.
St. Pierre admitted his coaching style is influenced by his mentor and that fans should expect to see the same brand of football that made the Eagles successful under O’Leary. He also added he expects to have O’Leary around the program as much as he desires.
“He’s as good as a motivator as I ever came across,” St. Pierre said of O’Leary. “I played for a lot of guys and Bill Cowher was a great motivator, but Bill Cowher couldn’t hold a candle to some of his pregame speeches.”
After graduating from BC, St. Pierre was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fifth round of the 2003 NFL Draft. He also played with the Baltimore Ravens and Arizona Cardinals before making his first and only career start with the Carolina Panthers in 2010.
St. Pierre, who now resides in Georgetown, also works with the school’s alumni relations staff.
When asked by Glatz, who was in attendance for the ceremony, whether he hopes to match O’Leary’s win total, St. Pierre responded that he only wants to emulate those who’ve come before him.
“You’re living up to two living legends in the coaching fraternity,” St. Pierre said. ‘I’m not going to be as successful as them, I’m sure, but I will aspire to be. But they’re perfect examples of what coaching’s all about. Obviously, they are great examples for me, but it’s a daunting responsibility to take over this program.”
With that comes great responsibility, but it’s what’s familiar to St. Pierre. He confessed to “having a problem” with football.
“I think I like [football] too much,” he added.
Ultimately, that’s what brought St. Pierre back to roost.
“The games are great and the competition is why you’re doing it, but it’s Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, being out in the field with those kids in the fall — I love it. That’s when I’m at my happiest.”