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Dennis Barrett

Dennis Barrett

Friday, June 4th, 1943 Tuesday, June 9th, 2020

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Obituary

Obituary for Dennis Barrett

Dennis Barrett, 77
A stranger, seeing him for the first time toward the end, when he was a
smaller version of himself, might not have guessed it.
But Staten Island lost a giant yesterday.
Dennis Barrett, a charismatic coach who came to the Island straight out of
college, and the projects, and made a career of building indomitable football
teams and young men of character, first at Monsignor Farrell High School, and
after that at the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point – and, in
the process, elevated the game and everyone who was part of it in the old
neighborhood – died yesterday, five days after his 77 th birthday.
In 14 seasons at Farrell, Barrett coached six undefeated teams – one year
the Lions gave up a total of six points all season – and in one four-year stretch
they won 33 straight games. The first year they joined the venerable Catholic High
School Football League, Barrett’s boys won the whole thing, and then beat the
public school champs in the Metro Bowl, which made them the best team in New
York City, hands down.
Then he went to Kings Point, a military school with all the rigors of West
Point and Annapolis and none of the glamour, where all that high school stuff
wasn’t supposed to work, and did the same thing. He inherited a downtrodden
program that hadn’t won a game the season before he got there, and left a
decade later with the most victories in school history.
But Barrett’s enduring legacy is the army of kids … now middle-aged men …
who played for him, or coached with him, or both, and were changed forever by
the experience.
“I’ve been around a lot of impressive people. and a lot of different
philosophies,” Kevin Coyle, who worked his way through the college coaching
ranks to a long career in the National Football League, told the Advance in 2013,
when he was defensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins. “But no one in my life
made more of an impression.
“I became a coach because I wanted to be him.”

Barrett’s coaching style was the antithesis of “social distancing,” the self-
defense mechanism forced on us by the coronavirus pandemic.
His modus operandi was to jump into players’ lives, and stay there.
He was, to borrow one of his favorite words, relentless about that sort of
thing.
“You have to love ‘em,” he once told a friend who was thinking about
getting into the business.
“You have to love ‘em … and they have to know you love ‘em.
“And once they know that, you can do anything with ‘em.”
Dennis Matthew Barrett was born and raised in New Rochelle, where his
father worked for the parks department. The family lived in public housing, and
money was tight. When the weather was warm and neighbors were grilling
outside, he and his brothers learned to linger on the periphery, waiting to be
asked if they might like a hot dog or a burger. Chances were it might be their best
meal of the day.
Sports gave him purpose. He was an all-district wrestler and a 5-5, 150-
pound quarterback at New Rochelle High School, where the football team lost
one game his junior year. The next year, with Barrett completing 60 of 78 passes
and directing an offense that scored 36 points a game, they didn’t lose any. The
Huguenots were the top team in the state, and Barrett was voted All-County and
All-State. Plus, he found a calling.
He watched his high school coach, Lou Amonson, turning boys into men,
and it seemed like a worthwhile thing for a man to do.
Recruited to the University of Cincinnati, Barrett suffered a back injury that
ended his college career almost before it started. But all that meant was he got a
head start on his life’s work.
He stayed at Cincinnati for a brief stint as a graduate assistant, the
equivalent of a master’s degree in coaching, before jumping at the chance to have
his own team at Farrell.

“The only thing I knew about Staten Island,” he said, “was that it had a
ferry.”
In those days, Barrett was a tight bundle of muscle and energy, whose very
being radiated purpose.
Even the way he said “football” … hard emphasis on the first syllable …
signaled intensity.
He was an ahead-of-his-time high school coach, running cutting-edge
offenses and bringing a college coach’s faculty to scouting and in-game
adjustments. When all that failed, he willed his teams to a higher level, the way
he did the day John D’Amato ran through a glass door at the conclusion of one of
Barrett’s halftime talks.
D’Amato, who played at Ohio State and UMass and became a prominent
Staten Island lawyer, wasn’t an outlier. One time or another, those locker-room
talks made the hair stand up on the back of the neck of trainers, priests, athletic
directors, team doctors and jaded sportswriters; and, once he got to Kings Point,
the occasional admiral or lieutenant commander.
“He made you feel important,” John O’Leary said. “He gave you the courage
to do things you didn’t know you were capable of doing.”
And when they lost, which was almost never, the coach told ‘em he loved
‘em.
When Barrett went back to Cincinnati, it was to play the No. 1 high school
team in the country, Moeller Catholic, in front of 27,000 fans at ancient Nippert
Stadium.
By then, the biggest college coaches in the country were paying attention
to what was happening in Oakwood. Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler came to
visit. Joe Paterno. Paul Dietzel, who won a national championship at Louisiana
State, created a fuss when he arrived by helicopter.
Barrett’s boys went off to play at Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame and the
Ivies, and came home to be doctors, lawyers and CEOs, cops and coaches. A lot of
coaches. Barrett was best man at their weddings, godfather to their kids, their
North Star in times of crisis.

It wasn’t always a smooth ride. Barrett’s Kings Point teams were often
over-scheduled; but Coast Guard, always the game that mattered most to the
Mariners, wasn’t his toughest opponent. Called out by family and friends, he
kicked the drinking habit that brought his father low, and threw himself into the
roles of speaker, counselor, and Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor with the same
passion he brought to football. In the hands of a sober Barrett, AA became one
more way to save the world, one drunk at a time.
For a guy like that, retirement should’ve been a victory lap. Barrett, the first
chairman of the Staten Island Sports Hall of Fame, was inducted in 1999, after the
waiting period he helped impose on committee members, himself included.
When some of the old guard organized a 70 th birthday celebration, 300 of his
former players showed up. Just this year, an Islandwide football award
recognizing academic achievement, leadership, and community service, was
launched in his name.
He leaves behind a daughter, Denyse Barrett Flynn; brothers Arthur and
Kevin, and a sister, Faith; a grandson, Kerry Cosgriff; and a great-granddaughter,
Clara Cosgriff.
And his boys. Just this spring Mike Marino, the center on Barrett’s first
team at Monsignor Farrell and a physical therapist who put his own life on hold to
help manage the coach’s care these last few years, stumbled on a 50-year-old
letter from the freshman football coach at Brown, welcoming him to the
university, and to a new world of possibilities.
In tears, Marino read the letter to his wife. “I wouldn’t be where I am
without Dennis Barrett,” he said. “I wouldn’t be who I am. It all starts with him.”
There were dozens just like him. Hundreds.
The last few years were rough on both families. Barrett battled a
smorgasbord of medical issues, any one of which, by itself, might’ve worn out a
less stubborn man, one who hadn’t beaten Coast Guard six years in a row … and
booze, too.
It mattered little if they were related by blood or by football. If they spent
any time around Barrett in his prime, he left an impression.

That’s how it was that October afternoon in 1987 when an undermanned
Kings Point team went toe-to-toe with the best club in Wagner College history,
stretching the eventual Division III national champions to their limit before falling
just short at the final whistle.
One of Walt Hameline’s assistants watched, with equal parts relief and
wonder, as Barrett’s Mariners left the field.
“I don’t know how they did that,” he said, before catching himself.
“No, wait … that’s not true. I do know how they did it.
“They were inspired.”

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Service Details

  • Visitation

    Sunday, June 14th, 2020 | 2:00pm - 4:00pm
    Colonial Funeral Home
    2819 Hylan Boulevard
    Staten Island, NY
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email |
    Sunday, June 14th, 2020
    2:00pm - 4:00pm
  • Second Visitation

    Sunday, June 14th, 2020 | 7:00pm - 9:00pm
    Colonial Funeral Home
    2819 Hylan Boulevard
    Staten Island, NY
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email |
    Sunday, June 14th, 2020
    7:00pm - 9:00pm
  • Third Visitation

    Monday, June 15th, 2020 | 2:00pm - 4:00pm
    Colonial Funeral Home
    2819 Hylan Boulevard
    Staten Island, NY
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email |
    Monday, June 15th, 2020
    2:00pm - 4:00pm
  • Fourth Visitation

    Monday, June 15th, 2020 | 7:00pm - 9:00pm
    Colonial Funeral Home
    2819 Hylan Boulevard
    Staten Island, NY
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email |
    Monday, June 15th, 2020
    7:00pm - 9:00pm
  • Service

    Tuesday, June 16th, 2020 | 9:30am
    Graveside
    Tuesday, June 16th, 2020
    9:30am
  • Interment

    Moravian Cemetery (Staten Island)
    2205 Richmond Road
    STATEN ISLAND, NY
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email |

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KB

Kevin Barrett

Kevin Barrett
My brother Denny was very influential in my life. He was the only person that I could count on growing up in a dysfunctional home. He was the first Barrett to attend and graduate from college. I can see now that he started his coaching career in my youth, he would coach me in the backyard (the few homes we lived in that had one) teach me all the formations from his HS team. I learned the T-Formation, and how to shift into the Single Wing. He also taught me to work hard at everything you do, if you want to succeed in life. I've had many conversations with my brother in the last few years telling him how much I learned from him, the impact he had on my life. I have tried to emulate his love for people, and hard work with my two career choices. He is the stable one in our family, one that inspired me to be the second Barrett to attend college and pursue my career in education. I love him dearly, and what he did for me for will stay with me forever. RIP brother Den..........
Comment | Posted at 07:13am via Condolence
MT

Michael toop

Mike Toop
I graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy in ‘77. While sailing I coached HS football at Chaminade, my father was the HFC. I met Dennis Barrett when Msgr Farrell joined the CHSFL. Coaching against his Farrell teams, I saw first-hand the type of man Coach Barrett was and the quality of the young men he coached. When Coach Barrett applied for the HFC position at USMMA, the AD at KP, George Paterno - my former Head Coach -called me to ask about Coach Barrett. Like many others, I told Coach Paterno that Dennis was the best man to bring Kings Point Football back and KP would once again be in the national picture.
Coach Barrett indeed brought KP Football back to national prominence but his love and dedication for his players and their love for him was something that was rare.
I stayed in touch with Coach B thru the years and returned in’05 as the HFC at the Academy. I looked forward to seeing Coach B every year at the Ricciardi Dinner. More importantly, knowing the obstacles one faces as the HFC at the Academy, Coach B would call me and give words of support and encouragement. I still carry those words with me. When we moved our football offices I named our Conference Room after Coach Barrett. Coach Barrett embodied the true spirit and character that is Kings Point Football. He lives on in all that knew him. I am thankful and grateful to call him my friend. Rest easy Coach, you still live in all of us who know you!
Beat Coast Guard!
Comment | Posted at 09:44am via Condolence
RG

Robert gonnello

I meet Dennis through Frank Ditommaso and John Oleary. I was the football coach for MILLBURN Rec and Dennis would come to our games and became a part of our staff. After getting to know him I realized why he had so many men who played for him love him so much. Dennis you were one great coach and more importantly one great man who touched some many young men’s hearts and minds. You were what all football coaches should strive to be. You will so so missed.
Comment | Posted at 02:41pm via Condolence
LB

Louis Baldassano

As many of us have already said, we wouldn't be where we are without your guidance. I know that my becoming a teacher and coach was because I wanted to treat students the way you treated us. Thank you for bringing back to Farrell in 1979 and giving me the chance to live out my dream. I wish I would have taken the time and come to see you over the past few years. You were always in my thoughts and always will be. God Bless you "Coach" and thank you for making ALL of us feel like we were special.
Love,
Louie B.
Comment | Posted at 02:45pm via Condolence
CD

chris decristoforo

I am not from staten island. when dennis moved in next to me I had no concept of his legend. until later when my son came along and he so influenced his playing and coaching career at Farrell and now at St. Peters'. I knew him as a neighbor and a willing friend and for me that was good enough. will miss him Requiem in Pace my dear friend
Comment | Posted at 01:46pm via Condolence
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