So there he was in the middle of Manhattan, and he was alone because he elected not to attend a Broadway play that his wife and others wished to see. He found himself in Times Square, a true melting pot for the rest of the world, so Tommy Duffy ducked into an Irish Pub.
That’s where he encountered a few others to talk about rugby, and then Duffy found a few more at a different pub. And then another and another.
“By the time the night came to end, there were probably 45 of us who were talking rugby and singing the songs about rugby. It was one of the best nights of my life,” he admitted. “Another one was just last week when Wheeling Jesuit called me. That’s when I knew I was coming home.”
Duffy, a Wheeling native raised near the Wheeling Jesuit campus, moved home this past weekend from Charleston, S.C., after accepting the head coaching position for the Cardinals’ rugby program. He resigned his position as dean of discipline at a Charleston middle school, and also from his assistant coaching position at The Citadel.
“It feels really good to be home,” said Duffy, a graduate of Wheeling Central Catholic High School. “One of the good things about coming home is that it’s like a perfect pair of shoes. You come back, and everything just feels comfortable. I know how to get around, I have a lot of old friends and family who still live here, and it’s just a nice, soft place to land.
“It’s ironic that I first saw rugby on the campus of Wheeling Jesuit when I was a pretty young kid. That was back in the 1970s, and it was something completely new to me. It looked like some pickup game that my friends and I used to play,” he continued. “I went back to get Dad, and he told me immediately that if I ever wanted to play rugby, I would have to do it in college because no high school team in the area existed.”
And that is exactly what he did after playing a season of college football for West Liberty University. He transferred to Cincinnati, where his wife-to-be was earning her graduate degree, and he happened into an Irish pub there, and suddenly he was a having a beer with Skip Prosser, former Linsly and Wheeling Central basketball coach.
“Skip asked me if I wanted to play for a club team at school, and I told him I did. He then introduced me to the coach, and I got to play for a bunch of years there,” Duffy explained. “Then we moved to the Pittsburgh area, and I played a little there, but then we had our son, and that’s when I realized that with having a job and a young family, something had to give. I needed to make a choice, and I made it. Soon after that we decided to move to Charleston, S.C.
“I did find the Charleston Outlaws, and I got to play with them a little,” he said. “But then I hit my 40s, and things just started to fall apart a bit. I couldn’t do what I had done in my 20s and my 30s, that’s for sure, so that’s when I decided that I wanted to coach rugby. I got very lucky to meet a lot of great people, and I got involved with the sport in that area.”
So involved, in fact, he was asked to assist at The Citadel while also coaching a team from a charter middle school. The request was to become the team’s forwards and strength coach.
“Lt. Col. Bill Bell was the head coach, and he told me that he wanted me to bring my coaching structure to the program, and when I told him that I didn’t have a lot of experience coaching rugby, he said to me, ‘You’re a coach. You could coach tiddlywinks.’ He told me that he wanted the structure that I brought to practice, so that’s how I started working on that level.
“Within a year, Bill was deployed, and that put me at the helm,” he explained. “It was baptism by fire, and it was a great experience for me, and after he came back, we made a playoff run and did very, very well. The guys on the team were very dedicated, and that’s what it takes.”
That is when Duffy heard a few whispers out of Wheeling about a possible chance to return to the Friendly City.
“The rugby community is a tight community,” he explained. “Even worldwide it’s a tight community because coaches talk, a lot of players talk to each other, and that’s how the rumors started flying that the Wheeling Jesuit position would be opening up because Tal Bayer was supposedly leaving. Out of anywhere, I would leave Charleston for such a position.
“And trust me, Charleston was a tough place for me to leave. My wife is still there, and so are my two kids. I’ll go back as often as I can, but when I heard that this position might be open, I knew I had to go for it,” he continued. “So I threw my hat in the ring, and here I am.”
Wheeling Jesuit’s rugby program, consistently ranked in the nation’s Top 15, competes all year with the “15s” competing in the fall and the “7s” playing in the spring. In other words, the matches now involve 15-on-15, and once the weather warms again, the competition will be seven-on-seven contests. The players compete on the same field for both formats, but the “15s” consist of two 40-minute halves, and the “7s” contain a pair of seven-minute halves.
The Cardinals’ season had already started at the time Duffy was hired, and the team currently has a 2-1 record heading into this weekend’s battle in Indianapolis against Lindenwood-Belleville.
The record didn’t matter, though, and that is why he’s living with his father once again. Tracy, Liam, and Maurin, however, remain in Charleston.
“Liam is finishing up his senior year, and he is planning to come to Wheeling to play for me at Wheeling Jesuit,” Duffy said. “I think he has a pretty good rugby career in his future.
“And my daughter is involved with her school and my wife has a great job in the Charleston area doing what she loves to do, so we’re going to do everything we can to make it work,” he explained. “Technology is a lot different from what it was when I was a kid, so now I get to talk to them every day and night, and I get to see them all, too, and that makes a huge difference.
“I do miss them more than they probably know, but at the same time they understand this is a chance of a lifetime, and I had to take it,” Duffy added. “And my wife and kids think that someday I’ll be some 70-year-old guy living in Ireland and coaching rugby. If that’s how it works out and that’s where Tracy and I are at that point, that’d be great. But for now I’m concentrating on being home and continuing the success at Wheeling Jesuit.”
(Photos provided by Tommy Duffy)