Saturday nights during football season always followed the same pattern at the Goldsmith home in Southampton in the 1960s and 1970s: After the Mariners game, the players and parents would get dinner from the old Healey’s Drive-In before heading to the Goldsmith home to party and socialize in the basement.It was a tradition created and fostered by Herb Goldsmith, who coached the Southampton High School varsity football team from 1955 to 1978, and his wife, Dorothy “Dot” Goldsmith. Herb Goldsmith died on Saturday, July 20, due to complications from pneumonia. He was 90.
Janice Opatovsky, one of the Goldsmiths’ three children, says she has fond memories of falling asleep to the sounds of those after-game parties, which she called “soothing.” It was, she says, one of many examples of her father’s lifelong commitment to the football program, and the Southampton community at large.
“Southampton was such a huge part of our life,” Ms. Opatovsky said earlier this week. “Everything revolved around football, and people being together and having a good time.”
He is remembered as one of the most influential members of the Southampton community over the decades, most notably for building the Mariners into one of the strongest high school football programs in Suffolk County.
Over the course of his career, Mr. Goldsmith amassed a 131-49-8 record—more wins than any other football coach in Mariners history. During his tenure, the team had four undefeated seasons, won 13 league championships, and had only four losing seasons. He was inducted into the National Football Foundation Long Island High School Hall of Fame in December 2009.
According to those who knew him best—family, friends, colleagues and former players—Mr. Goldsmith had all the tools that make an excellent coach. Chris Sweet, who was hired by Mr. Goldsmith in 1974 and served as his assistant football coach, said that Mr. Goldsmith’s knowledge of the X’s and O’s was extensive, and he also stated that he was “ahead of his time” in devoting countless hours to studying game film before it was a common practice among football coaches. But perhaps more important than that, Mr. Sweet said, was Mr. Goldsmith’s magnetic personality.
“He had the ability to communicate with just about anybody,” Mr. Sweet said. “When you talk to people about him, they all think they were his best friend. He just had that ability. When you’d talk to him, you’d think, ‘Here’s a guy who’s really interested in me.’”
Before they were colleagues, Mr. Sweet and Mr. Goldsmith were rivals on the football field—Mr. Sweet played for Westhampton Beach against Mr. Goldsmith’s outstanding teams in the late 1960s. Westhampton Beach never beat Southampton in those years, but Mr. Sweet said he had respect for the coach even then. “They were just so good,” he said. “It made you play better against them. He was a winner, and his teams played very hard.”
Herbert Everett Goldsmith was born in 1922 in Southold, and by the time he was a teenager, he had developed what would be a lifelong love affair with sports. He played four sports every year at Greenport High School, graduating in 1942 with 15 varsity letters. After high school, he joined the U.S. Navy and served in the South Pacific in World War II on two aircraft carriers, the Yorktown and the Bon Homme Richard. It was during that time when he decided what he wanted to do with his life: coach and teach.
Mr. Goldsmith graduated from Ithaca College after his discharge from the Navy, and had short coaching stints at Riverhead and Amityville high schools before coming to Southampton in 1955. In an interview with The Press in 2010, he said that Southampton had always been his first choice as a place to live and work, mainly because he admired the strong sports teams that the school seemed to field every year.
He not only continued that tradition but enriched it. Mr. Sweet recalled how Mr. Goldsmith never stopped working on improving his own coaching methods, attending clinics and networking with other coaches year after year. The rapport he developed with players was key as well. “He’d get a kid to believe he could do something, and a kid who believes he can do something is pretty good,” Mr. Sweet said.
Former player Mike Schucht said that Mr. Goldsmith’s knack for treating every player the same left a lasting impression on him, as did the life lessons the coach imparted to his team along with football knowledge. “I was not the best player out there, but Coach Goldsmith didn’t care,” he said. “He treated everyone with a type of dignity that made them feel at ease.”
Mike Rewinski, another former player, recalled that Mr. Goldsmith would play marching band music in the locker room for Friday practices to get the players pumped up for the next day’s game. Many years after he retired, Mr. Rewinski said, the coach could still be seen on the sidelines at Mariners games. “No matter how much time had passed, he always knew your name,” he said.
While Mr. Goldsmith cared deeply for his players and treated them with respect, he also expected a lot in return. Many players, including his son Jeffrey Goldsmith—who played quarterback for the team in the early 1970s, and was under center when Goldsmith earned his 100th career win—recalled how the coach was a stickler for punctuality.
It was a point he drove home by making odd meeting times for his team. The bus would leave for away games at 2:27, Jeffrey Goldsmith recalled—not a minute before or a minute after. The younger Goldsmith recalled a time when Steve McMahon, one of the team captains in the 1960s, had arrived two minutes late for the bus. It left without him—and McMahon had to hitch a ride to the away game with a teacher.
Jeffrey Goldsmith was a child at the time but attended the games with his dad. In fact, he said, he was born in August, and his mother brought him to the first game of the season when he was just a few weeks old. From that point, he didn’t miss a single Mariners football game through the time he was a senior in high school.
Jody Fanning, who played for Herb Goldsmith in the 1960s, said that during those years, Southampton was an extremely tight-knit community, and the successful football program that Mr. Goldsmith built was a point of pride for the whole town. “Football was like religion to us,” he said, adding that despite all of Mr. Goldsmith’s success, he remained modest, never taking credit for himself. “He would always say, ‘I had good players,’” he said. “He was the cog in the wheel that made it turn, but he always gave credit to his players.
“He just loved the game,” Mr. Fanning continued. “He knew the X’s and O’s, but he knew that we were young men and he was building character and bringing out the best in us.”
Mr. Goldsmith and his wife, Dot, were married for 63 years, and his oldest daughter, Linda Goldsmith, said he was a great father and husband. Family and sports, she said, were his biggest passions in life. Simple pleasures and traditions gave him joy as well, such as having dinner at Fellingham’s every Friday night for years.
“If there was a hall of fame for great human beings, my father would be in it,” she said. “Second to being called Dad, he loved being called Coach.”
A wake for Mr. Goldsmith was scheduled for Wednesday, July 24—from 2:03 to 3:57 p.m., and from 7:03 to 8:57 p.m., times the coach would have appreciated—at O’Connell Funeral Home at 30 Little Plains Road in Southampton. The funeral service will begin on Thursday, July 25, at 10:03 a.m.—not a moment before or after—at the Presbyterian Church on Main Street in Southampton.
Mr. Goldsmith was predeceased by his wife of 63 years and is survived by his children, Linda Goldsmith of Southampton, Jeffrey Goldsmith of Shirley, and Janice Opatovsky of Shoreham; a daughter-in-law, Linda M. Goldsmith; a son-in-law, Peter Opatovsky; and five granddaughters, Kaylan Romaniello, Brooke Goldsmith, Kendra Opatovsky, Danielle Opatovsky and Paige Goldsmith.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Varsity Club c/o Vinnie Mangano, Southampton High School, 70 Leland Lane, Southampton, NY 11968.