Kelliher to retire after 50 seasons on Green Wave sidelines

Longtime Green Wave football Head Coach Jim Kelliher announced Friday that the upcoming season will be his 50th – and final — season on the Abington sidelines.

“I say it all the time, but I am extremely fortunate to not only coach as long as I have, but to do it all in the same place. I appreciate the administration for giving me that opportunity and always supporting me, my coaching staff and our teams,” Kelliher said in a statement released through the Abington High School Athletic Department. Earlier in the day he had notified his players that 2023 would be his final season. 

“Coaching has been a big part of my life, and I’m going to really miss it, but I’ll still be there rooting for the Green Wave. It’s time for someone else to have the honor of leading the team – and I will be their biggest fan.”

A 1966 graduate of Abington High School, Kelliher served as an assistant coach under Coach Walter Paster for four years before taking over as head coach in the fall of 1974.

Shawn Reilly, the voice of Green Wave football, put the length of Kelliher’s career in perspective.

“It’s been an amazing career; if you were born when Dwight Eisenhower was President, or any time after the late 1950’s, and you played on the AHS football team, then you all were coached by the legend himself, Jim Kelliher,” he said.

Kelliher will retire with one of the most impressive resumes in Massachusetts high school football history. He’s led the Green Wave to five state titles, and is one of six Eastern Mass. High school football coaches to record 300 wins. Athletic Director Peter Serino said Kelliher also is the first and only football coach to guide the same program for 50 years.

“[H]is imprint on the lives of five decades of players and families will certainly extend well beyond this season,” Serino said.

“We look forward to celebrating the lasting impact Coach Kelliher has had on the community of Abington, starting with a brief ceremony to honor Jim Kelliher just prior to Abington’s 2023 home opener on September 8th at Memorial Field.”

Known as Coach Kel, and a fan of dying his hair Green Wave green, Kelliher has been lauded for his leadership qualities as much as his grasp of the X’s and O’s. In announcing Kelliher’s decision, Serino sent out a release containing testimonials from several former players.

“He’s one of a kind, and for years has had an uncanny ability to bring out the best in all of his players,” said former fullback Roger Woods, Class of ’81. “He literally has been a father figure to all of us for decades.”

Ed Reilly, who was a quarterback under Kelliher in the 80s and now serves as one of his top assistants, said he’s enjoyed coaching alongside him.

“He’s been a second father to me and about 2,000 other players, and I cannot express how much we all cherish and admire him,” Reilly said.

Abington football Head Coach Jim Kelliher, seen at Memorial Field before coaching his 500th game in 2021, announced he is retiring after the 2023 season.

School Superintendent Peter Schafer, who is also in his final year, noted that Kelliher’s first players are now in their mid to late 60s.

“More important than any number of wins or championships over the years – and there have been many wins and championships — Jim has helped shape and mold a better and brighter future for thousands of individuals on and off the playing field,” Schafer said. “That’s like winning the Superbowl 50 times in 50 years.”

The second half of Kelliher’s coaching career has been particularly notable as the Green Wave emerged as a perennial title contender. While it took him 36 years to win his first 200 games, he needed just 11 to win the next 100. Abington took home state titles in 2002, 2005, 2012, 2014, and 2019.

Serino said while it’s hard to miss Kelliher’s commanding stature prowling up and down the Memorial Field sideline, he often stood quietly in the background for National Honor Society inductions, awards ceremonies, player weddings and other events.

“As large as his presence is on the sidelines of Memorial Field on a Friday night – it is even larger in our Abington community,” he said.

Matt MacLean, a member of the Abington High  Class of 2007, said Kelliher was one of the main reasons he got into teaching and coaching.

“A true gentleman and certainly one of a kind,” he said.

Abington Head Coach Jim Kelliher waves to his team after they stopped by his house after winning the state semifinal game in 2021. Kelliher missed the game with COVID.

Kelliher said he’d enjoyed his long career as a coach.

“The kids have been fantastic to work with, and I have always admired their pride, hard work and teamwork,” he said. “Hopefully what they have learned from me and my fellow coaches will pay dividends as these athletes mature into fine young adults.”

Serino said Kelliher’s career will be celebrated during a ceremony 30 minutes before the start of Abington’s first game, Sept. 8 at Memorial Field.

More details on the celebration will be announced in the coming weeks.

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