HUDSON — Tom Patterson, the former Hudson High football coach and architect of the greatest season in program history, passed away on Thursday.
Patterson had great success coaching the Bluehawks’ football team in the early 80s and again from 1992-97, leading the team to the brink of a New York State Class C championship in 1994 and an appearance in the Section II Class C Super Bowl in 1993.
Hudson High School Principal Bob LaCasse played for Patterson and later added him to his staff when he became head coach.
“He was my coach, he was my teacher, he was my mentor, my friend, he was at my wedding,” LaCasse said. “I always valued his honesty and character and his commitment to doing the right thing by our kids in our community. He had an infectious sense of humor, if you got to know him really well. Even as a student in his class, he was literally one of the funniest guys."
Patterson always got the best out of athletes and LaCasse was no exception.
“He pushed me hard as an athlete, and as a coach he pushed me even harder and I’m a better person for it, definitely. He was extremely competitive and ultra prepared and he got the most out of all of us. After my first year of coaching, I think we only had one win and I sort of felt like I was disorganized and I didn’t feel like I was doing a very good job and that’s my first phone call.
“He tells me to come right over and (Patterson’s wife) Snookie pulls me aside before I go down in the basement, which is like going down into Lombardi’s basement where it’s filled with game tape and memorabilia, and she says ‘you sure you want to do this? If you let him in he’s going try to tell you stuff and try to take over.’ And I said, ‘no we’re going to do this right, we’re going to do this together’ and a lot of what we began to develop together as a system for Hudson High football is still going on today with John Davi, and how he’s organizing his practices and how we break film down.
“Tom taught me how to do the little things and how the little things can have such a larger impact on the season and how we look at our team and self scout and those kinds of things.”
LaCasse wasn’t sure what to expect when Patterson returned to Hudson in 1992 after a stint coaching college ball. It didn’t take long to discover the program was in good hands
“He was my mentor, he was an idol, he was somebody that came on as head coach, it was my junior year and everyone was just uncertain what it was going to be like,” LaCasse admitted. “He had some college experience and all of that and we’re in gym class and he’s handing me a playbook and tell me ‘you better go study this, there will be a quiz on Monday.’
“He completely changed the defense and those kinds of things and had such a greater commitment to the weight room. We had just finished building the weight room that year and a commitment to that and systemizing that. It was a culture shift where we’re going to lift weights before we go out to practice, we’re going to lift weight after we practice. We’re going to do it year round, which was just not something we had in our culture at the time because we didn’t have the facilities, and it’s still part of our culture to this day.”
LaCasse said the time he spent as a player and coach with Patterson is something he’ll always cherish.
“When I look back on it and think of his impact, it’s really just how he affected me as a person and you just never wanted to fail for the guy. You wanted to do your absolute best, as a player or when I was coaching alongside him. In the one and only year I was able to get to a Super Bowl (as a coach), he was on the staff with me.
“I’ll never forget that moment when we played an overtime game against Cobleskill, they scored and their kicker missed the extra point. We went out on offense and three plays later we’re in the end zone. Snap, hold, kick and we’re in the Super Bowl. The place is going nuts and he and I are hugging each other. Those are the things that I remember and I’m glad that I had that opportunity, that’s for sure.
“He’s one of the best guys I’ve every met. These kids today would be so lucky to have a guy like Tom. We were blessed in that regard. We all knew that we were a part of something special We had a great team filled with really great athletes and really great people and he was the perfect coach at the perfect time.”
Antonio Abitabile, who preceded LaCasse as Hudson High School Principal and is now the Superintendent of Schools in the Lansingburgh District, also played for Patterson and remembers those days fondly.
“Coach Patterson was an incredible person, mentor and coach,” Abitabile said. “He emphasized character and leadership over everything else, teaching his players important lessons that spanned beyond the playing field. He is a primary reason for me choosing the field of education as a career.
“If you didn’t know him, you would be surprised by his dry sense of humor. Coach was incredibly quick witted and had a line for everything. I still use some of his catch phrases with students to this day. He will be missed.”
Current Hudson High coach John Davi is a part of the Patterson coaching tree, having served as an assistant with him.
“Coach Patterson was a great man and coach," Davi said. "When I first started coaching at Hudson High in 2007 I had the pleasure of coaching offensive and defensive line with Tom. He was a pretty amazing football mind and I learned a lot from him. The kids really respected him.
“He had a knack for finding hidden potential in guys. One year he bet me that he could turn one of our athletic 150-pound players into an all-conference defensive end. I told him there was no way he could do it. Needless to say he won the bet and the kid had an amazing season. Those in football will definitely miss him.”
Kevin Bowes was a young assistant coach when he joined Patterson’s staff before taking the reins as head coach in 1998.
“He took me under his wing in 1992 and taught me a lot about coaching high school football,” Bowes said. “He also helped me the past couple of years with the golf team. He was a great man and will be missed. Thinking of Snookie and his children.”
Patterson coached many great athletes during his career at Hudson High, including Leroy Collins, who rushed for 4,996 yards under Patterson’s watch, then starred at Alfred State and the University of Louisville before eventually signing with the NFL’s Washington Redskins.
“If life, there’s always a couple of people that are placed in your life that are going to be there forever, characters in your life that are going to make you a better person, that are going to make you go farther in life,” Collins said. “Tom Patterson was that person for me, that character in my life that compelled me to go to a different level.
“Playing for him was like a life lesson. I learned a lot things about myself, I learned a lot of things about the game and I got a chance to learn about being a teammate. All of these things that he gave me. He always put me in a position where I had to challenge myself.”
Collins set lofty goals for himself at a young age and Patterson was always there, pushing him to reach those goals.
“I was a young kid and I messed up, did a lot of things that a young kid would do, but my goal from day one was always to make the NFL. People like Coach Patterson was one of those guys that would keep you on task. Even though you have a goal, a dream to go a place where nobody else would probably even you consider you going, he always kept me going.
“He’s one of the reasons I have a Master’s Degree. He told me,’Leroy, you’re going to go far in sports,’ but he asked me to do him a favor and graduate high school and college. That’s one of the things that pushed me because he believed in me.”
Collins said he saw another side of Patterson, a side that not many people got to see.
“The one thing that made me respect Patterson and not just love him as a coach, but love as a person, he would bring players in. There was a player whose parents wanted to leave Hudson, but he didn’t want to leave, he wanted to stay and play for Hudson and Coach Patterson opened his home up to this kid and allowed him to stay with him. He treated this kid like it was his own kid. Coach gave him a chance and an opportunity to look at life a different way. I watched that and it was very, very special to me.
“He was the Godfather of Hudson football. If you played or coached with him 20 or 30 years ago, you will always go back to Hudson and think he’s still the coach or he should be the coach. If you played for him, you think he should always be part of the program.”
Another star athlete, Rashad Barksdale, who went on to play in the National Football League, credits Patterson with helping him take his game to another level.
“I remember when coach Patterson joined the coaching staff for the high school team and on the first practice he was outside 30 minutes before practice and told myself and Daren Collins to meet him outside to start practice early! Coach literally got the most out of myself and Daren from day 1! He thought us a simple, but effective drill called the Ladder, which I’m now teaching my son!
“Coach Patterson judged our film and told us when we were loafing on the field and rewarded us running back with Tootsie Pops for running someone over! (Which is another thing I’ve used for the kids I’ve coached) who would of you ever known that a simply piece of candy would get a kid to play so hard! Coach Patterson knew!
Patterson also enjoyed great success with the Hudson tennis team, guiding the Bluehawks to Section II championships in the 70s, the last of which came in 1979. He also took Mark Bushman and David Allen to the state championship tournament in 1974.
“He was a great coach,” David Allen said. “He treated us better than just tennis players, he treated us like we were his kids. Not only was he a great coach, but you could have fun with him. He was always willing to help you, even if it was off the tennis court.”
“He was knowledgable and very competitive,” said Glenn Wheeler, who played on the 1979 championship team. “I enjoyed playing for him. He was a man of few words, but had a very dry sense of humor.”
Patterson is survived by his wife Snookie and daughters Joy, Sara Zoe and Kerri.
In lieu of flowers, the family is setting up a "Hustle" scholarship for student athletes through the high school in honor of Coach Patterson. Donations can be made to: Tom Patterson Scholarship, Hudson Senior High School, 215 Harry Howard Ave., Hudson, NY 12534, made payable to the Coach Patterson Memorial Scholarship.