PHILADELPHIA – When Father Judge High School announced this morning that it had officially hired Frank McArdle as its new football coach, the irony was rich.
Just three days into 2019, McArdle was relieved of his coaching duties at Archbishop Ryan, from where he had played football and graduated in 2000.
Now, less than four weeks later, the former linebacker and special teams contributor at James Madison University inherits a Father Judge program that just happens to be Archbishop Ryan’s chief rival, an approximate four-mile, 10-minute drive away.
“I was driving on Saturday morning and swung by Father Judge,” said McArdle. “I stopped my car and looked around. I thought to myself, ‘This is real.’”
Frank McArdle was named head coach of the Father Judge Crusaders after serving as head coach for rival Archbishop Ryan since 2009 - PSD Photo
McArdle took over at Ryan in 2009. The Raiders had gone 0-10 the previous season and had not enjoyed a winning campaign in precisely one decade. During his 10-year tenure, McArdle transformed his alma mater into a much-respected program in the mega-tough Philadelphia Catholic League.
The Raiders amassed a more-than-respectable 54-41 record from 2011 through 2018, culminating this fall with an 8-4 mark and a 24-17 loss to Archbishop Wood in the Catholic League Red Division Class 5A final.
“Thanks to the whole staff and the kids, the program was doing well,” said McArdle, 37. “We had a lot of confidence. We were seven points short of a championship. We helped send so many kids to college. We won a lot of games. We had a blast.”
Perhaps the person even more excited about McArdle’s new job is his father, Frank, a 1969 Father Judge graduate, former football assistant from 1974 to 1993, and member of the school’s Hall of Fame.
“My dad must have called me – and I’m not exaggerating – about 25 times,” said McArdle with a chuckle. “I’m thrilled; my whole family is thrilled.”
This being his second head-coaching opportunity, McArdle was quick to point out that this is a “totally different situation” than what he experienced in 2009.
“Ryan was a re-build,” said McArdle. “This is a tune-up. The last couple of years the (Father Judge) team has done a lot of good things.”
In the upcoming months, McArdle will solidify his coaching staff. He has decided to retain at least four of his former assistants, and that may increase. But McArdle is in no particular hurry.
“There is no shortage of terrific coaches at both schools, and there are many different coaches who are interested,” said McArdle. “We will just take some time and do it right.”
Before Ryan met Father Judge in 2017, McArdle was asked to talk about the rivalry between the two schools and whether or not it still existed.
McArdle as a young boy pictured in front of his grandmother helping to present a trophy to Father Judge quarterback Chris Fagan in honor of his grandfather - Photo courtesy of Frank McArdle
A young McArdle pictured wearing a Father Judge football jersey - Photo courtesy of Frank McArdle
“It’s very special to me,” McArdle said then. “I grew up around the Father Judge program. My dad was an assistant from 1974 to 1993. My dad and uncle are in the Father Judge Hall of Fame. I have had four uncles who have played there. I have known (former legendary Father Judge coach) Whitey Sullivan since the day I was born. My brothers and I played at Ryan, plus four cousins. It’s a special rivalry. It’s the last of its kind in today’s open enrollment era.”
McArdle then said something that turned out to be poignantly prophetic.
“I feel like I have been on both sides,” he said.
(John Knebels can be reached at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)