GoPrincetonTigers.com release on Peter Farrell’s Retirement
TigerBlog already knew what Peter Farrell was going to say when it was his time to speak at the Department of Athletics staff meeting yesterday.
It didn’t make it any less stunning to actually hear.
Maybe it’s because here was Princeton’s only women’s track and field coach in the 39-year history of the program, a man who is 69 years old, a thoughtful man, a serious man, a graduate of Notre Dame. Here he was, pretending to stab himself with a fork.
You know, he said. As in “stick a fork in me.” And why? “Because I’m done.”
That’s how Peter Farrell broke the news that he is retiring, bringing down the curtain on a career that saw him coach five decades of women here. The number of athletes has to reach into the thousands.
Farrell spoke for about 15 minutes yesterday at the staff meeting, and in typical fashion most of it was funny. When he was done, he was given a long, long standing ovation from the assembled members of the Department of Athletics. This was a genuine outpouring of emotion.
And speaking of emotions, there were more than a few tears. It’s possible Peter himself teared up. Whether he did or not, he sat down in a chair while everyone else stood applauding. He was clearly overwhelmed by the moment.
That’s what saying goodbye does, especially after 39 years.
Peter knew months ago that this would be it for him. He just didn’t want a big production to be made about it.
The Princeton coach whom TigerBlog can most compare Peter Farrell to is Pete Carril.
They were both ultra-successful coaches, of course. Carril as you know is in the Hall of Fame.
Peter? He’s won 27 Ivy League championships between cross country, indoor track and field and outdoor track and field. He coached 55 All-Americas and 182 Ivy League individual champs. He is the only Ivy women’s track and field coach to win the “triple crown” by sweeping the three league titles in the same year.
Beyond that, they are both a coach-as-philosopher. A conversation with either one that starts with sports will almost surely take you in a completely different direction, one that ultimately is about people and what makes them tick, positively or negatively.
They both have a dry, understated sense of humor. Neither laughs uproariously, just breaking enough of a grin, giving off a sense that they are mildly amused. In reality, TigerBlog has always thought, their minds are just working so fast that they’ve already moved past the punchline to whatever’s coming next.
They’re both outstanding public speakers, largely because they both speak directly from the heart. They don’t BS anyone, and they have little tolerance for BS when it comes back.
They are among the absolute most genuine people TB has ever met. They are both incredible story-tellers, with incredible stories to tell, of their lives from long before Princeton to the present.
TigerBlog has written often about Carril and how he was no child of privilege. And yet here he was, for 29 years, at a place of privilege. His upbringing shaped everything about him at Princeton. He learned a work ethic early on from his father, who spent 40 years working in the steel mills in Bethlehem, Pa., and he had no tolerance for anyone who tried to cut corners.
Like Carril, Farrell has never forgotten where he came from.
Farrell is from New York City, in Queens. His father went to Manual Trade High School and won a bronze star in Italy in World War II.
Peter’s older brother Tom ran at Archbishop Molloy High School and eventually would win a bronze medal in the 800 at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Peter also went to Molloy and then to Notre Dame, where he was a five-time All-America. He might have been headed to the Olympics too had not injuries and pneumonia slowed him at the wrong time.
Instead, he went into coaching. He started the girls’ track and field program at Christ the King High School in New York.
And then, in 1977, Sam Howell hired two new track and field coaches at Princeton, one to coach the men’s team and the other to start the women’s program. The men’s coach was Fred Samara. The women’s coach was Peter Farrell.
They started on the same day – September 1, 1977. Fred was in the audience yesterday, still the men’s coach, not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. Books can be written about the dynamic of their relationship since that first day.
But Peter? Now is his time to step away.
TigerBlog and Peter Farrell got off to a rocky start when they first met, largely because Farrell used to steal the newspapers out of TB’s office. It didn’t take long for TB to get past that and realize that Peter Farrell is unique, special, honest and in his way brilliant.
Through the years, TigerBlog and Farrell have spent hours talking about anything and everything. Princeton sports, yes. But way more than that.
Politics. Religion. Pop culture. Movies. Actors. Music, especially Bruce Springsteen. Really anything.
Peter Farrell is one of TigerBlog’s all-time favorite people. Not just from Princeton Athletics. From anywhere.
And now he’ll be leaving. He deserves it. He’s spent 39 years as a coach, educator, mentor, friend, advocate, confidante, sounding board, advisor to his athletes and his co-workers.
He’s come to work each of those days with the same unwavering drive, competitive spirit and integrity.
People like him don’t walk through the door every day – even if two of them did on the same day nearly 40 years ago.
Now he’s going to walk out the door. Stick a fork in him, as he actually pretended to do yesterday.
At one point of his talk yesterday, Peter paused and put his head down. TigerBlog couldn’t tell if he was struggling to hold it together; if he was, he was able to keep going a few seconds later.
Hey, this is what goodbyes are like. TigerBlog knew it was coming, and yet he was stung by the finality of it all.
He’s happy for Peter. He’s earned the next chapter in his life.
During his talk yesterday, Peter spoke about how the Sam Howell Invitational would be starting this weekend. Then he told the audience a little about who Sam Howell was. And he mentioned a word that is on the plaque for Sam in the Jadwin Gym lobby.
And when he said it, TigerBlog knew immediately that this was a word that perfectly described Peter. One word.
Yeah. That’s Peter.
Beloved. For 39 years.