President Valerie Smith shared the following in a community message earlier today:
I write with the sad news that former head football coach Thomas “Tom” Francis Lapinski of Wilmington, Del., passed away on Sunday, Oct. 16. The Swarthmore community has lost one of its most successful coaches and a beloved mentor to hundreds of students. He was 72.
Tom coached the Swarthmore football team for 10 seasons, from 1975 to 1984, taking the program to unprecedented heights. He took over a team that was in the midst of a 29-game losing streak and transformed it into a perennial winner, culminating in three consecutive conference championships from 1982 to 1984 and a place in the national rankings. His achievements are especially noteworthy, given that his roster never exceeded 42 players. Tom’s 1984 squad, which finished with an 8-1 record and statistically the best defense in Division III football, was inducted into the Garnet Athletics Hall of Fame in 2014.
Tom’s former players remember him as a skilled coach, tireless worker, dedicated mentor, and fierce advocate.
“Coach Lapinski was a dynamic leader able to inspire great men to perform beyond what most believed to be possible,” says Jeff Selverian ’86, a member of the 1984 team. “He will be sadly missed.”
“He was a high-character, genuine guy with no hidden agendas,” adds Andy Herron ’87, another member of the 1984 team. “We all knew exactly what was expected, and he was all about doing things the right way. But he wasn’t just a taskmaster; he cared about the students he taught and coached.”
“He was someone who helped make my experience at Swarthmore College as enjoyable as it was,” says Ed Greene ’85, a 2013 inductee into the Garnet Athletics Hall of Fame who played on the football team from 1981-84. “His work ethic and the fact that he was a teacher as well as a coach made him that much more important to me as a student, player, and man.”
Tom finished his Swarthmore coaching career with a record of 48-38-3. A part-time coach during his tenure, Tom left the Swarthmore football program following the successful 1984 season when the position was changed to full time. His withdrawal from consideration one day after he interviewed for the new position prompted coverage in the Philadelphia Inquirer, in which Tom said a full-time role would place him in an “uncompromising situation.” David Smoyer, then-chair of the department of physical education and athletics, described being “disappointed” that Tom “decided to withdraw from the process.” Swarthmore eliminated its football program in 2000.
Born in Phoenixville, Pa., Tom graduated from Pius X High School and the University of Delaware, where he received a scholarship to play football for the Blue Hens, including on their undefeated 1963 national championship team. A lifelong educator, he served as a football coach, biology teacher, assistant to the principal, and principal at Mount Pleasant and Brandywine high schools in Delaware. He later served as a member of the Board of Education of the Brandywine School District, developed the science curriculum at the Pilot School in Wilmington, where he taught for eight years, and served as a substitute teacher in the Cape Henlopen and Indian River School Districts.
Tom is survived by his wife Andrea, children Matthew, Neil, and Margaret, and five grandchildren.
A viewing will be held today at the McCrery & Harra Funeral Home, 3924 Concord Pike, Wilmington, Del., from 6 - 8 p.m. A funeral service will be conducted tomorrow at 10:30 a.m.at St. Joseph on the Brandywine, 10 Old Church Rd., Greenville, Del. Interment and repast will follow the service. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in Tom’s name to Catholic Charities’ Casa San Francisco Center, www.ccwilm.org.