WHITESBORO — Tom Schoen grew up here, "down by the tracks" on Pleasant Street, and he's proud of it.
"Yeah, that was tough country," said Schoen, a true blue "Whitesboro boy from Day One."
He still is that — right down to the "WBORO1" license plate on his truck. He’s just not the head football coach at Whitesboro High School. Not anymore.
With his 70th birthday just a couple of months away, after 45 years as the head coach of his alma mater, the winningest football coach in Section III football history has told school officials that he is retiring from coaching.
"It’s the right time," Schoen said Saturday. "It’s probably just a feeling I have, but I’ve always said I would know when it was time."
That time comes 10 years after Schoen retired as a physical education instructor in the district, and he leaves with a record of 283-131-4 that ranks him eighth on the state’s all-time wins list.
After winning three consecutive Section III Class A championships in 2015-2017 and reaching the state semifinals in back-to-back seasons, this year’s Warriors won a league title, qualified for the section playoffs for the 28th straight year, and finished 8-1 overall and No. 22 in the state rankings.
Schoen leaves after coaching Whitesboro to 16 league titles and 11 Section III championships. His Warriors won five Central Region titles — the last in 2017, when their season ended with a semifinal loss to eventual state champion West Seneca West from Section VI — and his 1996 team played in the Class A state championship game at the Carrier Dome.
A 1967 graduate who along with older brothers Ron and Don played for coach Chiz Frye, Schoen was a former Whitesboro football captain who went on to star as an undersized lineman at Ithaca College, where he played for and coached under the legendary Jim Butterfield.
He grew up a Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers fan because "they always played hard, always played physically," and that's how Schoen wanted his teams to play the game.
"Whitesboro’s a tough town — they love their football," Schoen said. "Even now, our kids love to play. … That comes from having guys like (assistant coaches) Joe Nassif and Jack Silvestri around for so long. We were consistent.
"We always said to the kids, ‘We’re here if you need a hand, and we’re here if you need a foot.’ What kids really need, though, is consistency and trust. Our kids believed we were going to do what was best for them. … And the wins? They’re a result of effort and consistence and energy."
Schoen, once the youngest college head football coach in the country — he was just 23 when he took over at Dean Junior College in Massachusetts — didn’t win right away at Whitesboro. The Warriors lost their first seven games and finished that first season 1-7.
"It took a while. It was a real hard climb," said Schoen, who back then figured he would come home, coach for a few years and "get things going again" and then return to the college ranks.
"But that was 45 years ago," he said. "It just got in my blood. I don’t have any regrets, absolutely none. Nobody’s forcing me out. The community, the administration and the school district have always supported me."
After coaching alongside Schoen for over 30 years, Silvestri stepped down as an assistant coach two years ago. Nassif, a 1971 Whitesboro graduate and a member of Schoen’s staff for 38 seasons, said Saturday that he too is retiring.
"The tradition, the culture — Tom established that at Whitesboro," Nassif said. "One of the first things he always said on the first day of practice was, ‘We plan to play for a championship.’ We set the bar high, and the kids bought into it because it was the same thing, every year, over and over again."
Nearly every Whitesboro football coach at every level played for Schoen, including modified coach Todd Scott, a member of Schoen’s first Section III championship team in 1986 and a member of his coaching staff for 26 years.
"Tom built a family atmosphere here," Scott said. "Look at the staff — guys don’t come and go. And he hit the jackpot with a couple of great young coaches like (Offensive Coordinator) Curtis Schmidt and (Defensive Coordinator) Kurt Herthum, guys with the same passion that Tom has.
"There are a lot of good young athletes in the program and some great young coaches waiting in the wings. He’s not jumping off the Titanic, he’s jumping off the Queen Mary. But it’s Tom who built this from the ground up."
Schoen has been around so long, he more than once has been called a "dinosaur."
He takes that as a compliment.
"Consistency, that’s the thing," said Schoen, who many years ago laid everything on the line before preseason workouts when he started handing out his Parent/Player Handbook and Survival Guide to Whitesboro Football for parents to sign.
They were great expectations that more often than not led to great results, including a Section III-record 283 wins and those 11 section titles.
But Schoen, whose many honors include his induction into the Ithaca College Hall of Fame in 2011 and the Greater Utica Sports Hall of Fame in 2012, is most proud of the file of letters from former players that often bring tears to his eyes.
"Trophies and plaques don’t make you cry, they don’t make me emotional," he said. "But when kids you have coached take the time to write a letter later on in life to thank you. … That’s the thing. That better be why you’re in the game.
"If you’re not going to make a thumb print on a kid, if you’re not in it to make a difference, then you should probably go coach for the money someplace else, be a nomad and coach at six different places. That just wasn’t me."
Whitesboro’s junior varsity and modified teams finished 7-1 and 6-1, respectively, this past fall, and Scott said in recent years, Schoen has given Schmidt and Herthum more and more responsibility.
Schoen said it will be up to the administration to choose his successor. No matter what, he isn’t expecting his departure to signal the fall of a high school football empire.
"Absolutely not," he said. "I really believe kids in Whitesboro still want to play football, and they probably won’t miss a step without me. They will still play with Whitesboro pride."