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Football Coach Joe Restic Dies at 85

By Xi Yu, Crimson Staff Writer

An educator, mentor, and “one of the most creative minds of football,” Joseph Restic, the former Harvard football coach who led the Crimson to five Ivy League championships, will be remembered for his humble demeanor and cerebral approach to the game.

Restic, who went 117-97-6 during his 23-year tenure at Harvard—the longest-ever by a Crimson coach—died on Dec. 8 at Brigham and Women’s Hospital due to declining health. He was 85.

After graduating in 1952 from Villanova, Restic played professional baseball for the Philadelphia Phillies and football with the Eagles.

His collegiate coaching career began in 1956, when Restic took over as an assistant at Brown. He accepted the same position at Colgate three years later before becoming head coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League in 1968.

Restic came to Cambridge in 1971 and went on to set school records in both games coached and games won, nabbing conference titles in 1974, 1975, 1982, 1983, and 1987.

At the time of his retirement in 1993, his 117 victories were 39 more than anyone else in Harvard history, and his 92 Ivy wins placed him third in the Ancient Eight all-time.

Positing that football went well beyond just “one guy beating another guy” and inspired by the Canadian league’s loosened style, Restic developed a complex offensive strategy—what he termed the “multiflex offense,” short for “completely multiple and totally flexible”—that used an unprecedented variety of shifting formations and patterns.

Bruce G. Schoenfeld ’82, a Crimson sports editor who covered Harvard football, recalled that Restic once joked about his scheme: “My offense is so complicated, it takes five years to learn it.”

Roger E. Caron ’84 played offensive line for Restic all four years. Caron remembered often seeing Restic in his office, sitting in complete darkness except for a small light on his 16mm film projector, watching game footage and devising yet another plan of attack.

Every Monday, Restic came prepared with 25 to 30 new plays and formations for his players to absorb, explaining their nuances in exacting detail. James P. Kubacki ’77, who played quarterback under Restic, said that he and the other quarterbacks had to divide the lot in order to memorize.

“He may not beat them, but he will confuse them,” The Crimson once wrote.

Robert A. Glatz ’88, who played running back for Restic, said that memorizing Restic’s plays each week was similar to studying for a class.

“It was like taking a masters course,” Kubacki said. “And you had to take your hourly exam in front of thousands of people every week.”

Caron, a former National Football League player who now coaches the Pomona-Pitzer football team in Claremont, Calif., said that Restic influenced his approach to coaching—emphasizing to his players that higher-order thinking was not meant only for the classroom.

“We’re often overmatched physically,” Caron said, “but we find ways to hang in there through the intellectual process of football.”

Restic told his players that if Harvard was about challenging one to the best of his ability, why was football any different?

Schoenfeld said that Restic was “almost too smart for Harvard.”

“He’s probably the hardest ‘professor’ I ever had,” said Kubacki, who returned to Harvard in 1982 to assist Restic.

Restic believed that football was the tool to make one a better person, Kubacki said. He challenged his players to think on their feet but maintained that at the end of the day, it was one’s values in life—not taking shortcuts, giving the best effort, being humble—that mattered most.

“Joe was not obsessed by winning,” Caron said. “He was concerned about everybody graduating, never embarrassing the program.”

Prior to the 1993 season, Restic announced that his 23rd year with Harvard would be his last. The Crimson lost to Yale on Nov. 20, 1993, to finish in last place in the league—the worst campaign of Restic’s tenure.

“Once his career was over, it was over,” said Restic’s son David L. Restic. “He felt as though he did it, done that. He never really lived in the past and always looked forward into the future.”

Current coach Tim Murphy’s hiring was announced a month later. On Nov. 5, 2011, Murphy broke Restic’s all-time wins record after beating Columbia, 35-21, and collecting his 118th victory. In an interview with The Crimson a few days later, Restic praised Murphy for rewriting the record books.

“Timmy’s a great guy, an excellent coach, and he deserved to break my record,” Restic said.

“Joe was typical of ‘The Greatest Generation,’ an extremely accomplished guy who was the last one to let you know it,” Murphy wrote in an emailed statement. “To me, he was a simple guy in the best possible context. He loved his family, his country, and coaching college football.”

Restic is survived by children Kathleen, Joseph, Suzan, and David. His wife Marian “Bea” Restic died of colon cancer in 2008 at the age of 77.

A funeral Mass was held on Tuesday in Milford, Mass. The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, memorial donations should be made to the American Cancer Society in Framingham, Mass.

—Jacob D. H. Feldman, E. Benjamin Samuels, and Robert S. Samuels contributed reporting to this story.

—Staff writer Xi Yu can be reached at xyu@college.harvard.edu.

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Former Harvard Football Coach Restic Dies at 85