Terry Silva is the all-time winningest coach in Gloucester High football history. He put up 154 victories in his 22 years as head coach, which included three Super Bowl championships.
Silva passed away this past weekend at the age of 70, and the lasting impression he left on many of his former players and colleagues goes far beyond wins and losses. In fact, the first thing that they remember about him isn't the championships, but his passion for coaching football and the connection he built with his players through life lessons.
"Coach Silva was all passion and heart," said former GHS football coach Tony Zerilli, a captain on Silva's 1997 team. "You saw how much he cared about you, no matter your role on the team, and how hard he coached you that it made you play with a similar passion. You wanted to run through a wall for him."
"He cared about every player that came through his program — and he was genuine," said Jim Unis, a former All American defensive end and 2001 team captain. "Everyone that was there was part of it. He made everyone feel like a big part of the team by the way he put so much passion into teaching the game and lessons in life. I have such an appreciation for who he is as a man."
More than a coach
Silva was seen as more than a coach to many. While he was a master at teaching the game of football, its fundamentals and intricacies, he would also shape those pigskin teachings into life lessons. He also taught those lessons as a long time elementary school physical education teacher.
Silva and his program won the Northeastern Conference Sportsmanship Award on almost a yearly basis during his tenure. An award is normally given to one of the weaker teams in a conference, Silva's teams would take home that kind of recognition while contending for and winning league titles.
"He would use a football platform to teach life lessons to young men at an important time in their lives," Unis said. "He would relate good choices on the football field to good choices in situations outside of football. He wasn't just a football coach, he was a great ambassador for the community and for the sport. I developed a passion for the sport because of coach Silva and the way he taught it. "
The lessons that Silva taught to his players had a way of resonating because of the way he went about his business.
He had an uncanny knack for striking a balance on the practice field, knowing the times to get serious and when to get tough. He also knew the right times to lighten the mood and make it fun.
The effort he put into his coaching, which was obvious to anyone who has taken part in one of his practices, also rubbed off on his team.
"Football is a tough and demanding sport, and he made practice something you wanted to go to," said current Gloucester football coach Dan O'Connor, who played for Silva in his final four years as head coach from 1999-2002. "That's something that every coach tries to do, but not every coach can succeed in doing.
"Talking to him recently, he told me he was most proud of having over 100 kids in the program multiple times. He got so many kids to play the sport because he built a program that everyone wanted to be part of. And he did it by truly caring about his players ... and we all cared for him."
He not only cared for his players; Silva also understood them and how they needed to be coached to get the best out of them.
"He understood that not all kids come from the same walks of life and have the same personality," said Mike Lattof, who played when Silva was an assistant coach in the late 1970s and coached on Silva's staff in the mid-to-late 1990s.
"He was about building relationships and being there for his players. He taught me early on as a coach that it was really important. His motto was 'Everyone deserved to be coached.' I think that's why he had so much success and had so many kids come through the program, because he coached them all."
The bond he had with his players helped create continuity in the program. Silva created a culture that still exists to this day. one that preached a family atmosphere, brotherhood and supporting each other.
With football being the ultimate team game, he made it one of his biggest priorities to have teammates trust in each other both on and off the field.
"The stuff that coach Silva taught me about brotherhood and family is what I tried to carry with me when I coached," Zerilli said. "The family atmosphere, the way everyone took care of each other. It was about more than football; it was about being part of something bigger than yourself. That all comes from his passion for football and for life. He taught us lessons that are still relevant to us later in life."
Master motivator and line coach
Of course, Silva was also a spectacular coach whose enthusiasm for the game helped mold some outstanding football players and led to big time success for the program.
When Silva was hired as head coach in 1981, he took over a struggling program. But by his second season, he had the Fishermen contending for conference championships. He won his first of eight NEC championships in 1987, the others coming in 1991, '95, '96, '97, '98, 2000 and 2001.
He won his first Super Bowl in 1991, the program's first state championship since 1956. From there he won another Super Bowl in 1995 and again in 2000. He also made a Super Bowl appearance in 1998.
Silva finished his career with a program record 154 wins while putting together a .500 record or better against every NEC opponent he faced.
Through it all, the team's identity was similar: fundamentally sound, tough and disciplined.
The offensive and defensive lines were always big strengths as well. Silva was a master line coach who relentlessly drilled the fundamentals. He used to refer to 'The Z's', meaning that if your body was in the shape of the letter Z, you were playing with the correct fundamentals.
"He didn't just teach it; he did it," Unis said. "He would turn his hat around, get down in the three point stance and hit the sled himself to show us the right way to do it. He knew how to get the best out of you."
He also had a great ability to make the best out of what he had. Gloucester does not always have a size advantage up front, but that didn't stop Silva from putting together a dominant line year in and year out. He did that by playing to his player's strengths and finding out the best way for them to succeed.
"I played offensive tackle at 180 pounds next to a guard and a tight end that were over 225," O'Connor said. "Talk about the one who did not belong in that group. But he had a knack for putting the time into each kid and making it work. He didn't need the kid to fit the mold; he made the mold fit to the kid."
Silva's impact on the program and the community will not soon be forgotten. His fingerprints are still there to this day and will continue to be with the program he helped build back to prominence for decades to come.