BRIARWOOD — How do you replace a legend?
At Archbishop Molloy, the answer is simple.
“It’s impossible to live up to him,” Brad Lyons said of iconic baseball and basketball coach Jack Curran, who died in his sleep March 14 at the age of 82. “You just have to try to do the best that you can do and get the best out of the players. You try to take what you learned from him and apply it.”
Lyons has the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of Curran, who coached baseball and basketball at Archbishop Molloy for 55 years until his death.
Curran had more than 1,700 wins and captured 17 CHSAA titles on the diamond. He also had more than 970 wins and another five CHSAA championships on the hardwood.
Lyons, who is the acting head baseball coach, spent two years as an assistant under Curran after coaching baseball and football at his alma mater, Massapequa High School.
“You just learn so much,” Lyons said. “Every day I would just try to sit next to him and pick his brain. He would think three plays ahead of you.”
Joining Lyons, who pitched at the University of Maryland from 2000-03, is Matt Rizzotti, who played on the Stanners' last championship team in 2002. Rizzotti went on to a successful career at Manhattan College and played six years of Minor League ball.
“The sad thing is I’m returning with coach not around. There are no more long walks out to the field with him just talking about baseball,” Rizzotti said. “His greatest power that I don’t think we could even come close to mimicking or doing is the fact that he made everyone around him feel comfortable.”
The current Molloy players attended Curran’s funeral as a team. Lyons, 32, said that was when they realized why Curran was a legend.
“I don’t think they understood the magnitude of who coach was until the wake and funeral when you see all these people,” Lyons said.
The team is honoring Curran by each wearing his No. 5 on their practice jerseys in the preseason. Their uniforms will also have a commemorative black patch on the sleeve with No. 5 when the CHSAA league season opens Wednesday at Bishop Ford. They will also leave Curran's bucket — which he used for a makeshift chair in the Stanners dugout — empty.
“It’s definitely an odd feeling,” senior pitcher/infielder Chris Piteo said. “Coach would always sit on a bucket and we save that seat for him every game. His presence is always there. It’s never left.”
The Maine-bound Piteo said it’s also a bit strange walking the Molloy halls without seeing Curran and hearing his dry sense of humor.
“The hallways seem a little more empty,” Piteo said. “I’d always have long hair and he’d always call me curly and joked I’d become an Eskimo next year because I’m going to Maine. I miss those little exchanges with him. It’s rough going past his office.”
Greg Boyle, a senior right-handed pitcher who verbally committed to Hofstra, said Curran would always bellow for him to “throw the straight ball,” and that he’d “get on me for annoying him on the mound.”
Curran gave so much for hundreds of baseball players in more than a half century at Molloy. Now these Stanners want to give back to their coach.
“We’re all motivated this year more than ever to go to the championship,” Boyle said. “We all have a little extra drive to do better this season.”