Gene Masters, a man whose coaching status boardered on
legendary, died on Monday of a heart attack. He was 70.
Throughout his 44-year coaching career, Masters came
to symbolize high school football and all that was good
about it. His competitive spirit and his burning desire
to win took him to heights few other coaches have
Monday started as a typical day for Masters, who rode
his bicycle to 7:30 a.m. mass at St. Stephens Church on
Baseline Road in Grand Island. Just before the Gospel
was read, he reportedly grabbed his chest and his head
fell backward. Attempts by emergency personnel to revive
"He was gone almost at once," said longtime
friend Agnes Denler, who was seated right behind
Masters. "He let out a funny sound, and I rushed up
and held him. They worked on him like crazy, but he was
gone. His eyes were alive and then they weren't. I don't
think I'll ever forget the way he looked. I guess if he
was going to go, that was the place for it."
Masters had a history of heart trouble. In 1991 he
survived septuple-bypass surgery. During his recovery he
was advised by his doctors not to drive. So in true
Masters style, he rode his bike to get around.
"It was quite a shock. He really didn't show any
sign of being sick or anything like that," said
Grand Island athletic director Jon Roth. "If he was
hurting he didn't tell anyone, but that's Gene
Coaching was a lifelong passion for Masters who once
said: "As long as the good Lord wants me, I will
continue his work; that is teaching young men what is
right and then doing right through football."
For all who knew him, Masters was Grand Island
athletics. He began his varsity football career at
Brocton in 1957. Six years later he moved to the new
high school on Grand Island where he founded the
football and baseball programs.
"He personified what a coach on the high school
level should be," said Roth. "The guy was
always upbeat, he always had great stories, and that's
what I'm going to miss. He won't just be missed in the
world of athletics, he made so many friends on Grand
Masters only had four losing seasons among his 44.
His 248 wins (against 107 losses and seven ties) are the
most all-time among public school coaches in Western New
York and the fifth-most in the state. His teams won 18
divisional titles, and made nine trips to what is now
Ralph Wilson Stadium.
He helped mold 25 All-Western New York players,
including three Players of the Year, and earned WNY
Coach of the Year honors in 1978 and 1989.
"He was a great motivator. He got us all pumped
up for every game like it was going to be the last game
in our high school career," said linebacker Mike
Filosofos, nicknamed "Flipper" by Masters in
1973. "He always told us to go out and have fun and
play the game the way it was supposed to be played, and
he loved to win."
"He knew what was best for you," said
quarterback Glyn Lipp, who led the Vikings to an 8-0
record in 1973. "He made us work hard, but he knew
what the results were going to be. He was just a great
guy. This is a big loss for the Grand Island community
and the kids who played for him and all the kids he
Masters' baseball coaching career spanned 1964-2000
and included over 450 wins, 10 league titles, five
sectional crowns and produced 10 All-Western New York
Masters was recognized for his lifelong dedication to
high school athletics in 1999 when he was inducted into
The Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
Other honors included the Grand Island football field
being dedicated in his name in 1991. In 2000 he was
named large school Coach of the Year for the decade of
the '90s by Western New York High School Sports
magazine. He is a previous recipient of the Dick
Offenhamer Award given annually on UB Civic Day.
Retired Depew coach Frank Constantino is one of
Masters' few coaching contemporaries. He was inducted
into the Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 1991. In eight
meetings against Masters-coached teams the Wildcats were
"He was ahead of the game," said
Constantino. "I could never beat him at their
place. We used to have a pretty good rivalry. He and I
were good buddies. He was a super guy, but he kept to
himself most of the time."
Master's early successes as an athlete provided a
foundation for his coaching career. He was athlete of
the year his senior year (1948) at Tonawanda High
School. He played semi-professional football with the
North Tonawanda Loggers and Fredonia Orioles.
In 1948 he went to Iowa State and later transferred
to the University at Buffalo from 1950-1951. He played
on the Bulls football team during the 1951 season. He
was inducted into the army and served in the Korean war
from 1952-1954. After the war he returned to UB and
graduated in 1955.
Masters retired from teaching in 1993, but kept the
football and baseball jobs until 2000.
Masters is survived by his wife, Marge, of 45 years,
a son Mike of Amherst and a daughter, Cynthia Khries, of
Tonawanda and four grandchildren. He had two sisters,
Janet and Linda, and a brother Dick.
Visitation will be on Wednesday and Thursday from 2-4
p.m. and 7-9 p.m. at Kaiser Funeral Home at 1950
Whitehaven Road on Grand Island. A funeral mass will be
held Friday at 10 a.m. at St. Stephen's. He will be
buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in the Town of