Former RFA star player, longtime coach Myslinski revered
When those who knew him best talk about Tom Myslinski Sr., they point to his dedicated preparation, meticulousness in the details and willingness to go above and beyond for family, friends.
Former RFA star player, longtime coach Myslinski revered
ROME — When those who knew him best talk about Tom Myslinski Sr., they point to his dedicated preparation, meticulousness in the details and willingness to go above and beyond for family, friends, players and colleagues.
The former Rome Free Academy star player and respected coach died Sept. 27, at age 77. Myslinski, who resided in Rome, had been treated for oral and neck cancer for the past seven years.
Myslinski was born April 12, 1945. He attended RFA, where he was a three-sport standout in football, wrestling and track and field. He was an all-state football player, an All-American honorable mention and a captain in his senior year. He also finished second at states in wrestling and set the school record in the shot put.
He went on to play at Bordertown Military Academy, a prep school in New Jersey. There he was all-state in football and won a state title in wrestling.
He played offensive tackle at the University of Maryland from 1964 to 1967, lettering in the final three years. He also wrestled at Maryland, winning the Atlantic Coast Conference heavyweight championship his junior year. He was drafted in the 13th round (344th overall) in the 1968 draft by the American Football League’s New York Jets. Though he was released by the Jets, he signed to play for the team’s semi-pro farm club in Bridgeport, Connecticut. According to his obituary in the Daily Sentinel, he was going to be recalled by the Jets for their Super Bowl game, but suffered a torn bicep in a Bridgeport game the day before being recalled. The injury led to the decision to retire from football.
Myslinski was part of the coaching staff for the 1981 RFA varsity football team, which was ranked No. 1 in New York state and coached by Rome Sports Hall of Fame member Tom Hoke. Myslinski was part of Hoke’s coaching staff for 26 years.
He was inducted into the Rome Sports Hall of Fame as part of a two-person class in 1984 along with Irene O’Shea.
He was a coach and physical education teacher in the district for 31 years before his retirement in June 2000. He coached football, wrestling and track and field. He coached at all levels in the district and ran a summer weightlifting and conditioning program.
In 2005, RFA named the weight room at the high school in his honor.
Tom Myslinski Jr.
Tom’s older son, Tom Myslinski Jr., not only followed his path as a star offensive lineman at RFA and on the collegiate level (with the University of Tennessee) but he made it to the NFL, playing there for nine years. At RFA, he was a two-time state champion in the discus throw. His senior year he was all-state in football, just like his father had been.
And he went on to be a strength and conditioning coach, also at the NFL level, a job his father probably would have had if such a title existed when he was a coach. Another thing they share is being inducted into the Rome Sports Hall of Fame (Tom Jr. in 2003).
“My dad was ahead of the curve when it came to strength and conditioning,” Tom Jr. said. “It’s no wonder RFA was so dominant back in the day.” He added, “You only have so much God-given talent and then you have to make up for it in other avenues.” RFA was talented but also hard working, he said. That, he said, was a relfection of coach Hoke’s entire coaching staff. “Dad had that influence on the guys all year,” as football, wrestling, track and field and off-season lifting coach. But it wasn’t just what his father taught, he noted. “It was for the love of us. When I say ‘us’ I mean all the players. It was evident in the way he lived his daily life. He was the most unselfish person I’ve ever know. My dad never wanted recognition for anything. He was all about his athletes performing well. Being a coach is about being a blessing to someone, and that’s what he epitomized.”
How he coached, his son said, was “an example of service and how you are supposed to live your life and give back. He wanted people to have the opportunities he had. That’s why he was so demanding of people.” And, he added, “You can be demanding if you care.”
How Myslinski coached was similar to how he was as a parent, his son said. “You have to have somebody to teach you, to show you. That’s kind of the role of the father, to be that example for his son. The way that he lived his life and conducted himself — with the humility he did, how he believed in service over self — that’s what he preached.” One of the key lessons he imparted to his namesake, Tom Jr. said, was ownership. “Never shy away from anything and own your story. He completely epitomized the ‘Live full, die empty’ mindset.”
Longtime voice of RFA football Raymond Tarkowski, who became Mize’s brother-in-law when he married his sister, Susan, remembers him fondly. “He was a hard-nosed coach who deep down had the heart of a gentle man. His gruff appearance wasn’t a true reflection of how he was. Loved his family more than anything people could imagine. He was the best brother-in-law anyone could hope for. Family was the most important thing in his life. His family, my family. He went out of his way to do anything for his family but kept them at the same level while he was teaching as everyone else. No favoritism at all. He was a family man.
“And he was a terrific coach,” Tarkowski continued. “He had a relationship with his players that was unbelievable. They would basically do anything that he asked them to do. He worked all summer, all winter, to improve their skills and their techniques to make them better people primarily and football players secondarily.” Off the field and in the off-season he worked with the players in all areas, he noted. “He went out of his way to help them with what they needed.” And for his commitment, “They all respected him immensely. They all contacted him, called him and asked for his advice. He established a relationship with his players that was unimaginable.”
Tarkowski said that even his contemporaries who squared off against the Black Knights still reminisce about his legacy. When Tom Jr. was inducted into the Greater Utica Sports Hall of Fame earlier this year, coaches in attendance at the ceremony talked of his father, Tarkowski noted. “It was his ability to communicate and to work with these people knowing that once the game was over the game was left on the field and they again became close associates and friends.”
To say nothing of his own athletic accomplisments. “He stood out in every sport and he worked at it. He worked at everything he did,” Tarkowski said. He had a chin up bar and weights at home to keep improving, long before schools had well-equipped weight rooms. “But when they did get a weight room, they named it after him,” he noted. “That’s where he spent his off hours when he wasn’t with the family. He thought that was one of the keys to becoming a good athlete, that training. And it wasn’t just lifting but the mental training you learned there.”
John Dominic Jr.
“He was very matter of fact, to the point. He was more of a tough love type of guy,” said John Dominic Jr., who was part of the 1981 team as a lineman. Himself a 2004 Rome Sports Hall of Fame inductee, Dominic said coach Mize was a father figure to many players. “He was there for you if you needed a conversation and he was there if you needed a kick in the backside.”
Dominic said Myslinski’s approach to weight training was one of the reasons “why the program was so successful.” In that way, he said, Mize was ahead of his time. “When I got to college I was so far ahead (of my teammates),” noted Dominic, who played on the defensive line at Syracuse University.
“With coach Mize in that position, he was a huge influence in my life, no doubt about it. The knowledge he had. The respect he demanded and the respect he gave. Pushing you beyound your limits,” Dominic said. Even when you didn’t understand the point of the lessons at the time, he added. And that relationship continued long after high school for many of the players, he said. His players had the nickname “Mize’s guys,” Dominic said, “a fraternity that has always been there.” It’s a group of guys who always checked on him years after playing for him.
“He knew how to get the most out of every player,” Dominic said. He remembered a time at a pre-season football practice where the coach wrote his last name on a piece of tape and stuck it to his forehead to mimic how the players had their names taped on their helmets. He led blocking drills, demonstrating without a helmet of his own. New players thought he was crazy, Dominic said, but it was “a defining moment” that showed all the players that the stories about his intensity and commitment were true.
“He was way ahead of his time with all of the weightlifting and training for the football linemen and track and field weight guys,” said Dick Meiss, who coached modified football while Mize was on the varsity staff. They also taught at different schools in the district at the same time. Mize also played Little League for Meiss’ father, so “I knew him at an early age.”
To Meiss, Myslinski “was totally dedicated to what he was going to do. People saw that rough image of him but that really wasn’t him.” He was, in fact, “totally dedicated to his family, who meant so much to him. He was soft spoken when you got him away from the football field.”
From his athletes, “He required respect and taught them a lot of lessons outside of football. And other coaches saw his innovations. He was so far ahead of his time,” Meiss said.
And, Meiss noted, “He was an outstanding physical education teacher. He did seventh grade P.E. at Strough for a number of years. He had an outstanding program there. People think of him as a football and track guy but he was an excellent P.E. teacher.” Meiss said his talent was in being able to break concepts down into small pieces to teach toward the final product. “And he was always able to get his point across.”
“It was a punch in the gut” when Anthony Washington got the news of Myslinski’s death. The three-time Olympian in discus who was inducted into the Rome Sports Hall of Fame in 1995 recalled visiting Rome in July to see family and friends, and said that when he stopped at Mize’s house he wasn’t there. “I felt bad because I wanted to see him again. I hadn’t seen him in a long time.”
The 1985 graduate of RFA said the coach “was like a father figure to me. I can honestly say if there’s any one person who impacted my life (when I was young), it was him. He was very caring. He was a tough guy, but he was very caring.” He continued: “He had a commanding presence. He carried himself with authority. And how he taught you produced results.”
He added, “If you enjoyed your sport and wanted to be good, you listened to coach Mize. It was that simple. I think we need more people like coach Mize in this world.”
Washington recalled a day in high school when he was having a tough time with family issues and the coach approached him and said he was there if he wanted to talk. “That really meant a lot to me. I’m a really quiet guy and keep a lot inside,” he said. “It still has a place in my heart to this day and it’s something that happened when I was 18 years old.”
Myslinski “was a legend. How many kids get to have a coach who played pro football? It was huge. When he talked, you listened. He was a good coach.” He added, “He was one of the most important people in my life and I really loved him.”
Washington concluded: “People believe that we’re all equal in the eyes of God, but that’s not true. Some people are better, and Tom Myslinski was one of those people.”
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