Dr. Bob Coogan was New York City-born, bred and educated, from his distinctively Irish good looks to the decidedly “Noo Yawk” accent he never quite managed to lose.
Thus he was not a Leo graduate, but he was a Leo Man, in the truest sense of the word.
The Leo Community mourns the passing of Bob Coogan, who left an indelible mark on the school during the 12 years (1954-65) he served as Leo’s athletic director while a member of the Christian Brothers of Ireland.
Bob died on April 5, Palm Sunday, at his home in College Park, Md., where he continued to live after closing out a long and distinguished career in education as an English professor at the University of Maryland. Wife Mercy Coogan and sons Daniel and Martin were by his side.
“He made it to 90, in September,” Mercy Coogan said, “but then he suffered a fall at home in October. As is often the case, things kind of deteriorated after that. His family was with him, and he knew we were with him as he gradually left us. It was a lovely, peaceful passing.
“But we miss him.”
As Brother Coogan, Bob formed an inseparable bond with Jim Arenberg, the charismatic World War II Marine Corps hero who coached Leo’s football and heavyweight basketball teams for much of the ’50s and into the ’60s. Br. Coogan hired Tom O’Malley, who led Leo’s lightweights to the ’65 Catholic League championship and the heavies to the CCL title in ’73. He oversaw the restoration of Leo’s baseball program. And he touched the lives of hundreds of young Leo Men.
“I didn’t know too many people when I transferred into Leo for my junior year, after St. Ignatius dropped football,” recalled Ray Siegel ’65, an All-City tackle for the Lions as a senior. “I was struggling a little, but Brother Coogan called me aside and gave me a pep talk about expectations that settled me down. He was a guy you could talk to about anything. My relationship with Brother Coogan was one of the highlights of my time at Leo.”
As if his A.D. duties didn’t keep him busy enough, Bob also served as chairman of Leo’s English and Latin departments, and as golf coach, assistant basketball coach, Alumni Association director and Father’s Club moderator. In his “spare time” he was president of the Chicago Catholic League and an advisory board member to Mayor Daley’s Youth Foundation. Inducted into the Leo Hall of Fame in 1992, he was a tireless advocate for Leo and the Leo Mission.
Tom O’Malley recalled Brother Coogan’s irresistible powers of persuasion.
“When I graduated from Loras, I was accepted into a management-trainee program for a department store chain,” he said, ”but Brother Coogan talked me into coming to work at Leo for about half the salary. My dad said, ‘Tom, I thought you went to college because you were smart.’ “
Leo President Dan McGrath believed Bob bore a striking resemblance to illustrious fellow New Yorker Al McGuire, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame who coached Marquette to the NCAA championship in 1977.
“You’re not alone,” Bob told McGrath at the Leo Alumni Banquet in 2013. “Once I was on my way back to the brothers’ house after a night meeting and I stopped to buy gas. I was standing by my car and another customer came up to me and said, ‘How’s it going, Coach? You down here recruiting?’ That guy also thought I was Al McGuire.”
Bob eventually left the brothers, married Mercy and raised their two sons. But his lifelong love of learning remained one of his defining characteristics. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Iona College, a Master’s from DePaul University and a Doctorate from Loyola University Chicago. He was drawn to Renaissance literature as a specialty and wrote two books and numerous scholarly papers on the subject.
Bob often referred to his Leo tenure as the best years of his life and said his Leo experiences helped shape him into the man he became. Many of the students he influenced at Leo would say essentially the same thing: Bob Coogan not only helped them, he inspired them to become the men they are today.
Robert J. Coogan: Facta Non Verba