High school coaching legend O’Neil dies

Coached for six decades
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Categories: High School Sports, Sports

The Section II football family lost a coaching legend Thursday afternoon with the passing of Murry O’Neil.

The man who brought football to Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake and coached the high school game in Section II for six decades died of natural causes at the age of 90. The South Glens Falls resident is survived, among others, by his wife Leslie and four children.

“He really was a legendary guy,” Saratoga Central Catholic athletic director and longtime friend Phonsey Lambert said of O’Neil.

O’Neil started up the football, wrestling and track and field programs at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake in 1955, and guided the Spartan gridders up until 1984.

“When he was at Burnt Hills, it was him and [assistant coach] Ed Dempsey for 30 years,” Lambert said. “Now, you’ve got staffs with 12 guys. They were old school.”

O’Neil’s Burnt Hills teams went 131-103-7 and shared the Saratoga County League championship in 1956 and later captured or shared five Suburban Council titles in 1968, 1969, 1982, 1983 and 1984.

O’Neil continued coaching football afterward at different levels at Ballston Spa, Saratoga Springs, Queensbury, South Glens Falls and Saratoga Catholic until 2010.

“He had a great way about him,” said Lambert, who coached with O’Neil at Saratoga Springs, South Glens Falls and Saratoga Catholic when the private school brought back football following a lengthy hiatus. “He was not boisterous, and he didn’t have to yell and scream. He had the fire, though, and kids responded to him and respected him.”

O’Neil coached football at the modified, freshman, junior varsity and varsity levels in his career that led to induction into the Capital Region Football Hall of Fame, the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Hall of Fame and the South Glens Falls Bulldog Pride Hall of Fame.

“He was always great around kids,” Lambert said. “It didn’t matter what level it was at.”

A Marine Corp veteran, O’Neil started his teaching and coaching career at South Glens Falls in 1951, and served as an assistant football coach and the head basketball coach there where his teams went 37-17 and won a pair of Saratoga County League championships.

O’Neil coached Burnt Hills wrestlers for fifteen years while compiling a record of 56-13-2 and winning the Western B Division in 1961-62 and 1962-63. The 1963 Spartans were Section II champions.

O’Neil’s track and field teams compiled a 15-year record of 129-29-2 and won a Western B and Suburban Council championship.

“He loved coaching kids,” said O’Neil’s grandson, Tadd O’Neil. “He loved football. He loved all sports.”

Reach Jim Schiltz at [email protected] or @jim_schiltz on Twitter.

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