Francis Coghlan, Founder of Philadelphia Rugby Club, Passes at 80

Here is an Excerpt from a Piece Written by a Villanova Rugby Player and an Obituary from the University of New Brunswick:

As Villanova Rugby embarks on its 50th season of play, they will be without the man who started it all a half century ago. Coach Francis Coghlan, the founder and first head coach of the program, passed away on October 17 at the age of 80.

Villanova Rugby was Coghlan’s creation as a professor back in November of 1959. He was responsible for rounding up the first team, made up mostly of his students he had convinced to come out to practice. With little support from the University, Coghlan pushed ahead and founded what was then the Main Line Rugby Club. The program gained momentum in the spring of 1960 as forty players filled the roster. The club faced mostly Ivy League teams in the Eastern Rugby Union. Their competition had the advantage of South Africans, New Zealanders, Brits, and other Europeans with rugby experience. Coughlan’s team, however, consisted of all but one American.

The club struggled to find victories early in the Fall 1960 but a Thanksgiving tournament in New York City saw the team finish 4th out of 25 of the best clubs in the nation. The tournament could be pinpointed as the launching point of the success the club would have for years to come under Coghlan’s leadership.

While his coaching skills helped build a strong program at Villanova, it was Francis Coghlan who helped spread the game of rugby all over Pennsylvania. Along with many Villanova alumni, Coghlan had a hand in creating teams such as Philadelphia-Whitemarsh and St. Joseph’s University. Coghlan’s players went on to form clubs at places such as Vanderbilt, Nashville, Quantico Marine Base, and Blackthorne, where Coach John Galante helped significantly. Coghlan also spent time sitting on the Board of Directors for the Eastern Rugby Union.

Coghlan moved to the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, Canada where he continued to spread the game. He also played an important role in the advancement of officiating in the country as he was elected to the governing body of the Canadian Rugby Union.

Coghlan began to phase out his rugby and teaching career in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He settled in Ontario in 1998 where he lived until his passing.

Coach Francis Coghlan built a program that has withstood the test of time and adversity. To find the source of pride and commitment alumni and current players have to the club, you need look no further than Coach Coghlan. He was a coach with a passion for the game, a willingness to teach, and a genuine care for his players. He will be missed.

-Greg W. Shipman

From the University of New Brunswick:

COGLAND, DR. FRANCIS Dr. Francis Coghlan of Toronto, Ontario died October 17, 2007. He was born May 15th, 1927 in Cardiff, Wales. He received degrees from the London School of Economics and the University of London. Francis immigrated to America and attended the University of Notre Dame where he earned a Masters degree in history. While advancing his studies he met Ruth Rust and they were married in Kokomo, Indiana in 1955. In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he taught at Villanova University while pursuing his doctorate in history at Bryn Mawr College. Francis was instrumental in the reintroduction of rugby as a college sport in the northeastern United States while serving as coach at Villanova University. After receiving his doctorate in 1966 Francis brought his wife and their four children to Fredericton, where he took a teaching position in the History Department at the University of New Brunswick, as professor of U.S. history. He also taught business and world history and had broad historical interests and an encyclopedic knowledge of general history. During his tenure with UNB, Francis served as the History Department chairman and as Assistant Dean of Arts. Francis was also heavily involved in rugby in New Brunswick, both at St. Thomas University and in founding the Fredericton Exiles Rugby Football Club. He served on the executive of the Canadian Rugby Football Union for many years. Francis came out of retirement in 2005 to teach history at Ryerson University in Toronto, where he joined his daughter on faculty and his experience and teaching style were greatly appreciated both by his students and his new colleagues. Francis was predeceased by his wife Ruth and is survived by one sister, Mary Mathieson of Bristol, U.K., by four children: Jennifer Hubbard of Toronto, Ontario; Richard of Hong Kong; Philip of Pensacola, Florida; and Jonathan of Virginia Beach, Virginia, and seven grandchildren. Visitation will be on Friday, October 19th at 7 p.m. at McDougall & Brown Funeral Home, 2900 Kingston Road Toronto, Ontario. A funeral mass will celebrated on Saturday, October 20th at 11 a.m. at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Highland Creek, Toronto, followed by interment at Resurrection Catholic Cemetery in Whitby, Ontario.