Hall of Fame Coach Jack Kaley, 83, Dies of Cancer


Jack Kaley, a National Lacrosse Hall of Fame coach who led NYIT to four NCAA Division II men’s lacrosse championships, died of cancer Thursday on Long Island. He was 83.

Kaley’s career spanned 50 years, starting as a high school coach on Long Island in 1964 and ending as German national team coach in 2014. He coached at East Meadow (N.Y.) from 1968-85, amassing a 227-90 record and winning four Nassau County championships as well as three Long Island titles.

After seven seasons as an assistant at St. John’s, Kaley restarted the NYIT program in 1993 and led the Bears to the national championship game the next year. They made five more title game appearances under Kaley, winning NCAA championships in 1997, 2003, 2005 and 2008. He went 185-33 at NYIT.

Known for his thick eyeglasses and impromptu whiteboard sessions, Kaley introduced several strategies still used today, including the backer-zone defense, swarming ground ball patterns and the Hugo (“Wherever he goes, Hugo!”) ride that identified mismatches after stoppages.

Several of Kaley’s former players and colleagues, including Duke and U.S. national team coach John Danowski, took to Twitter to pay tribute to Kaley.

“I am grateful to him for his love of the game, his passion for coaching and never allowing us to stray from what was important,” tweeted Danowski, who played for Kaley at East Meadow.

Mercyhurst coach Chris Ryan credited Kaley as a pioneer who elevated Division II lacrosse.

“Heaven learned the backer zone today,” Ryan tweeted.

St. John’s coach Jason Miller said the Red Storm deployed the Kaley-inspired scheme when undermanned against Georgetown this year.

“His impact on this game will last forever,” Miller tweeted.

Kaley retired after the 2009 season at NYIT but remained a supporter of the program until the university shuttered all sports in 2020.

“I would walk off the field at halftime and he would make a point to come over and let me know that we weren’t riding,” said Bill Dunn, Kaley’s longtime assistant who took over for him at NYIT and was recently named the head coach at Molloy. “It didn’t matter what the score was, whether we were up by a lot or down by a lot, it always came down to the ride — the ride and the swarm, always.”

A Long Island lifer, Kaley also could be found in the stands at Hofstra, where he played lacrosse and football, graduating in 1961. He got his start in the sport playing midfield for legendary Sewanhaka (N.Y.) High School coach by Bill Ritch.

After retiring from NYIT, Kaley continued to coach not only with the German national team but also for Igloo Lacrosse, a club program based out of Syosset, N.Y. His passionate, sometimes intense approach to coaching had not subsided.

“He never changed,” Dunn said.

Kaley was a three-time conference coach of the year and a five-time Division II Coach of the Year. He was named the USILA’s Howdy Myers Man of the Year in 2007. He also coached with the New York Lacrosse Club, the Long Island Lacrosse Club and the North Hempstead Lacrosse Club. All told, he compiled over 500 victories in his coaching career.

In addition to being a member of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, Kaley was also inducted into six other halls of fame in recognition of his outstanding contributions to lacrosse.

“At every level and with every team he coached, Jack developed a special bond with the athletes,” Rich Donovan, who played for Kaley at East Meadow and coached alongside him with the German national team, said prior to Kaley’s 2010 induction into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame. “The enthusiasm he brings to the game is what he [was] always about.”

More than the wins and accomplishments, Kaley was often lauded for his personal demeanor and care for others.

“The three best words to describe Jack are compassionate, considerate and courageous,” former NYIT assistant Bruce Casagrande said upon Kaley’s induction into the IMLCA Hall of Fame in 2018. “It wasn’t until I started to work with Jack that I realized it’s so much more than X’s and O’s that make a great coach.”

Palm Beach Atlantic coach Stephen Tempone played for Kaley at NYIT, scoring six goals in the Bears’ 18-11 win over Adelphi in the 1997 NCAA championship game. Reached by phone Friday, Tempone recalled his first practice as the head coach at Holy Trinity, a Catholic high school in Hicksville, N.Y., the following spring.

Kaley showed up to Cantiague Park unannounced with a whistle and stopwatch around his neck, telling Tempone, “I’m here to make sure you do it the right way.”

Paul Ohanian contributed to this article.

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