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Jaywalking: Students, athletes, colleagues adored Bill Budness

  • The late Bill Budness displays the 1968 Super Bowl ring he earned for playing in an Oakland Raiders’ loss to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl II. recorder file photo

  • When he wasn’t coaching football at Greenfield, the late Bill Budness was a successful softball coach loved by his players. recorder file photo


Monday, January 29, 2018

You have to wonder if Bill Budness knew exactly how many lives he touched during his 30 years teaching and coaching at Greenfield High School.

Over the past few days, since Budness passed away on Jan. 24 at the age of 74, people throughout Greenfield and western Massachusetts have been sharing stories of the former gym teacher, football coach and softball coach.

It’s not hard to figure out why. When I was at GHS from 1996 through 2000, Budness was in his final years teaching gym along with his partner in crime, Fran Murphy. Budness was as affable a man as you would meet, and most former students probably remember him limping around the gymnasium with his warm smile and personality. What set him apart from many teachers was how much he seemed to like students. It did not matter if you were a top athlete or not, a great student or not, or a well-behaved kid or not. You had a place in Budness’ world. Current Greenfield athletic director Mike Kuchieski, who played football for two seasons under Budness in 1980 and 1981, and had him as a teacher, said that Budness’ ability to connect with so many students was one of the things that made him great.

“He was hard-nosed but fair to everybody,” Kuchieski began. “It didn’t matter who you were, you were treated the same. Coach Budness and Coach Murphy were two of the reasons why I looked into coaching and physical education.”

Budness was born in Chicopee in 1943 and graduated from Chicopee High School in 1960 before heading to Boston University, where he was an All-American linebacker, later inducted into the BU Hall of Fame. He graduated in 1964 with a degree in education and was drafted in the fourth round (31st overall) in the 1964 AFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders.

Budness spent seven seasons playing for the Raiders, including a three-year stretch (1967 through 1969) in which he and the Raiders played in the AFL championship game. The Raiders defeated the Houston Oilers, 40-7, in 1967 to advance to Super Bowl II, where they took on Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers. Behind an MVP performance from quarterback Bart Starr, the Packers earned a 33-14 victory.

After retiring from football following the 1970 season, Budness returned to the area. Beginning in the fall of 1972, Budness was hired as both the physical education teacher and football coach at the school. That same year, Tom Suchanek began teaching math and science at GHS and helped out as a volunteer football coach. Over the next 30 years, the two men shared many experiences together, both as coaches and teachers. Suchanek said that one thing that stood out to him was how great a football coach Budness was.

“He wasn’t a screamer or a yeller. If somebody didn’t get the job done, he wasn’t going to jump all over them. It wasn’t his style,” Suchanek explained. “I think because of that, the kids liked him. He was an exceptional football coach. He was a mastermind on defense. He could look at defense and immediately tell you what everyone was doing.”

Suchanek is not the only coach who admired Budness’ ability to scout teams. Al Dean, who first began coaching eighth-grade football in 1969 and continued on as the middle school coach until 1981, when he moved up as a varsity assistant, a post he still holds, said that he has never met a man who knew more about the game.

“I remember the first time I went to scout a football game with him,” Dean recalled. “I was looking down at the field and after the first couple plays, he described exactly what was happening on both sides of the ball. Within seconds he began breaking down what both teams were doing.”

Dean also marveled at Budness the man.

“He was just a really great person,” Dean began. “All the stereotypes that people have of professional football players would be turned upside down. And he genuinely liked kids and that’s why kids liked him so much. Kids have a really great radar for that. They know if someone is a phony.”

During his time as football coach, Budness went 49-48-4 and took Greenfield to three Super Bowls. His first year at the helm, 1972, saw Budness take a team that went 1-8-0 the previous season and a 7-2-1 record and the Central/West Division I Super Bowl, where the Green Wave lost 22-6 to Fitchburg High School. His team went 7-2-0 the following season before the school had a string of down years. Budness and the Green Wave went 9-2-0 in 1979 and made the WMass Super Bowl, where it fell to Holyoke High School, 14-7. Finally, in Budness’ final year as coach in 1981, Greenfield went 8-3-0 and fell to Westfield High School, 34-6, in the Super Bowl.

“One of the other things that always sort of stunned me was how much he cared about the high school game,” Dean said. “I just marveled that he could care about high school football that much after having played in the Super Bowl. He was by far the most nervous head coach I worked with. He would be a wreck before games. But it also told you a lot about the kind of person he was. He cared about how well the kids did.”

Budness retired as football coach following the 1981 season, partially because his son Keith was beginning to play football at Frontier Regional School. Suchanek said that another factor may have also been that Budness struggled with seeing kids suffer injuries.

“He hated seeing kids get hurt and unfortunately that’s kind of the nature of the sport,” Suchanek said.

Soon after he began teaching at the school, he also took over as the varsity softball coach in the spring of 1975. He had a sophomore on the team that season named Donna Woodcock, who would go on to succeed Budness as the softball coach at the school and also taught physical education alongside Budness and Murphy. Woodcock said that during her time playing for Budness, Greenfield did not have the most talent per se, but the coach had his players ready to play.

“He had us work on fundamentals all the time,” Woodcock said. “Our pitcher threw strikes and we relied on people’s defensive skills to get us through games. We did well because of his training and the fundamentals he had us practice.”

Woodcock later taught physical education alongside both Budness and Murphy and she remembers him the way many of his former students through the years recall the man. He was a gentle giant who had a constant smile and the banter between him and Murphy made for great entertainment.

“I was very fortunate to play for him and then to work with him and Fran,” Woodcock began. “They made each day fun to go to work. Lunch with the two of them was a great time. They were kind of like the ‘Odd Couple,’ the way they went back and forth. One of the things that always comes to mind is something he would always say, ‘Real men wear pink.’ He would always wear his pastel colors.

“And he really cared about kids,” she continued. “It wasn’t necessarily how good of an athlete you were, he was concerned with how kids were doing mentally with the pressures of school.”

Woodcock also remembered that Budness loved to cook, and he could often be found along with Murphy helping the lunch ladies out in the kitchen.

By 1990, Budness had retired as head coach of softball, but he remained active with the football team, serving as the “eye in the sky.” He could be found on top of the press box, helping to break down what the other team was doing and provide information to Mike Duprey and the rest of the Green Wave coaching staff.

“He was the ‘eye in the sky’ when I played,” former Green Wave star Peter Bergeron said. “He was a very likable guy. I remember being in awe of him the first few times I met him because he had played in a Super Bowl. You tend to put people on a pedestal, but I remember how down to earth and how approachable he was.”

During his final years, Budness moved to Delaware with high wife Ginger, his high school sweetheart who he spent the past 55 years married to. The couple moved to be closer to two of their three children. Budness was suffering from the effects of playing football in a time when head injuries were not taken seriously. His obituary said memorial contributions could be made to the Boston University School of Medicine, CTE Center Medical Campus, 72 East Concord Street, B-78oo, Boston MA, 02118.

The gentle giant is gone at the age of 74. His sense of humor and smile, however, will forever be etched in the memories of all those students he touched over the years.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.