Jan. 28, 2008
Michael J. "Mike" Holovak, an All-America football player at Boston College, World War II naval hero, head football coach for both Boston College and the Boston Patriots and a long-time NFL executive with the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans, died Sunday in Ruskin, Fla.
Mr. Holovak, who was 88, was a resident of Wimauma, Fla. at the time of his death. A Memorial Mass will be celebrated for Mr. Holovak at St. Ignatius Church on the Boston College campus in Chestnut Hill, Mass. on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 10 a.m.
"It was a great experience to have played for Mike," said John J. Burns, Jr., a 1953 Boston College graduate who was a member of the football team under Mr. Holovak. "Not only was he a great football innovator, each player was an individual to Mike and he treated everybody with great respect. He would never yell or scream - even if it might have been needed.
"Mike was a great influence on everybody who ever played for him" Burns said.
Burns and many other Boston College players from Mr. Holovak's era established the Mike Holovak Endowment Fund at the University in 1999 to support a graduate assistant coach who aspires to a football coaching career.
Mr. Holovak was born in Lansford, Pa. on Sept. 19, 1919, the son of Czechoslovakian immigrant parents. When his father died while Mr. Holovak was in high school, he took a job as a church sexton to help support his family and figured that his promising football career had ended.
Through the efforts of his high school coach, Mr. Holovak won an athletic scholarship to Seton Hall Prep School in New Jersey where he caught the eye of future Boston College football coach Frank Leahy. Leahy talked the young man into attending BC and he became the starting fullback on the Eagles' undefeated 1941 Sugar Bowl champions.
As a senior in 1942, Mr. Holovak was a consensus All-America selection. In that season's Orange Bowl game on Jan. 1 against Alabama, Mr. Holovak scored three touchdowns and averaged 15.8 yards every time he touched the ball - a rushing record that has stood for more than six decades.
His strong and dependable running skills frequently caused BC fans to chant "Give it to Mike!" when the Eagles needed critical yardage or a score.
Following graduation from Boston College in 1943, Mr. Holovak entered the Navy and was selected to be the skipper of a PT boat operating in the South Pacific war zone, a dangerous and demanding assignment reserved for the most physically fit and courageous young officers. "He rarely spoke of it, but he was so proud of that service to his country," recalled his widow, Pauline Scudder Holovak. "They were shot at the first night they were in the Pacific." His boat was credited with sinking nine Japanese ships and Mr. Holovak retired from the Navy as a Lieutenant Commander.
After the war, Mr. Holovak played professional football for the Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams before beginning his coaching career as freshman football coach at Boston College in 1949. His teams didn't lose a game in the two years that he held the post.
He was named head coach at Boston College in 1951 and over the next nine seasons led the Eagles to a record of 49-29-3, highlighted by an 8-1 mark in the 1954 campaign.
In 1960, he was appointed the first director of player personnel for the newly-founded Boston Patriots, and was named the Patriots' second head coach in the 1961 season. Over the next eight years, Mr. Holovak's teams compiled a 53-47-9 record and his 1964 Patriots reached the American Football League championship game where they lost to the San Diego Chargers.
"Mike was a mentor, a coach, a friend, and above all, a consummate gentleman," said Gino Cappelletti, one of the Patriots' all-time leading pass receivers and scorers, who played for Mr. Holovak. "He had a profound impact on my football career and my life for which I will always be grateful. His contributions as coach and general manager in the critical early years of the Patriots' franchise were monumental."
Mr. Holovak also coached and held administrative positions with the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders and New York Jets.
Later in his career, Mr. Holovak served as vice president for player personnel and general manager of the NFL's Houston Oilers and worked for the Oilers, now the Tennessee Titans, in various front office positions until his retirement from football in 1998. During his tenure, Mr. Holovak was responsible for drafting and acquiring three future members of the professional football Hall of Fame: offensive linemen Mike Munchak and Bruce Matthews and quarterback Warren Moon.
He remained a special consultant and scout for the Titans until shortly before his death.
"Mike was the quintessential `football guy,'" said K.S. "Bud" Adams, Jr., founder, owner and president of the Tennessee Titans franchise and a long-time friend of Mr. Holovak. "He had such a passion and knowledge of the game. It is rare when you see a person excel in all three areas of the sport: a great player in college, a successful coach and great talent evaluator, but Mike was one of the special people. He had a real gift for evaluating talent; and in my opinion, he was one of the finest and most effective evaluators of playing talent in the history of our organization.
"His induction into our team Hall of Fame, the only front office member ever inducted, speaks volumes to the impact to our organization. More than that, he was a true gentleman and a man of great integrity," Adams said.
Mr. Holovak is a member of the National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame, the Boston College Varsity Club Hall of Fame, the Tennessee Titans Hall of Fame and the Seton Hall Prep Hall of Fame.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by daughters, Michele Harrison and her husband David of Gloucester, Mass. and Cindy Oatess and her husband Michael of South Tampa, Fla.; granddaughters Lisa M. Harrison of Boston and Stephanie Pizarro of Tampa; and grandson Michael J. Harrison of Gloucester. Mr. Holovak was predeceased by another daughter, Terrie Anne Holovak.
Contributions in his memory may be made to the Mike Holovak Endowment Fund, c/o Boston College Advancement Office, 140 Commonwealth Ave., Chestnut Hill, Mass., 02467.