Plymouth’s Mazur Coached The First New England Patriots
The list is not particularly long, but in its own way it is quite distinguished. It started with Lou Saban in 1960 as the head coach of the Boston Patriots. Chuck Fairbanks, Ron Erhardt, Dick MacPherson, Bill Parcells, Pete Carroll and of course, Bill Belichick, are some of the more familiar names as the head coach of the New England Patriots.
But the last coach of the Boston Patriots, and the first official coach of the team when it changed its name to the New England Patriots will be recognizable by fans from the Wyoming Valley, particularly the West Side.
Plymouth’s John Mazur coached the team in its final season as the Boston Patriots in 1970, and continued to coach the New England Patriots in 1971 and part of the 1972 season.
Mazur was a legend during his time at Plymouth High School where he was a three-sport star in football, basketball and baseball. He went on to play quarterback at Notre Dame from 1949-51, played one year in the Canadian Football League after being discharged from the Marine Corps, and began his coaching career at Marquette University.
Mazur, who was born in 1930, died at the age of 83 in 2013 in Mount Laurel, New Jersey.
“He was a great guy, he really loved the Valley and he loved Plymouth, he was a Shawnee Indian all his life,” said Ned Sarf, of Larksville, who is Mazur’s brother-in-law. “He would come back here on vacation. He helped get a lot of people into Notre Dame. A lot of people that he knew who were doctors and dentists, he would help get their kids into Notre Dame.”
Following his stint at Marquette, Mazur was an assistant coach at Boston University before joining the Buffalo Bills of the old AFL as an assistant coach. He was hired as an assistant with the Boston Patriots in 1969. It was at that point when football fans in Larksville and Plymouth began changing their allegiances from the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Patriots. And it was not out of the question to see friends of Mazur wearing Patriots shirts and hats around those parts of the Wyoming Valley.
“Even when he was the quarterback at Nore Dame, it was quite the thing for this area to have a quarterback at Notre Dame,” said Mazur’s cousin, Joe. “Guys followed his career. John and his parents lived in the upper end of Plymouth. The guys in Plymouth used to have a football club. They used to get together at the Shawnee Club when he came in. It was a big to-do. The guys he hung around with would go up to the games either by bus or a car caravan.”
Once with the Patriots, Mazur got his big break when the team struggled in 1970, and head coach Clive Rush abruptly resigned. Mazur was named head coach, a title he held until late in the 1972 season when he was replaced by Phil Bengtston. Mazur’s record as the head coach of the Patriots was 9-21.
“John got to the Patriots because the owner of the team (Billy Sullivan) really liked him,” Sarf said. “Upton Bell, the general manager, didn’t want John in there. He was making all these trades to try and get Johnny out of there. (Bell) traded for Duane Thomas from the Cowboys, a running back. John told him to get in a three-point stance and the guy wouldn’t do it. John wouldn’t accept him on the team and the NFL cancelled the trade. John just couldn’t get along with (Bell). He was making all these trades to make John look bad. That was the real story. Sullivan paid him his entire contract.”
Mazur then went on to work as an assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles before joining another Wyoming Valley legend, Walt Michaels, when Michaels was the head coach of the New York Jets. Mazur coached the defensive backs, and was named defensive coordinator in 1979. In 1980, Mazur retired after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease at the age of 48.
Sarf recalled one trip the two took to Penn State in the early 1980s to see Notre Dame play after Mazur retired.
“He had Parkinson’s and we went to see Notre Dame play,” Sarf said. “It was so cold and it was snowing. The seating at Penn State at that time wasn’t like it is now. He was shaking like hell. He saw this guy from Notre Dame and they got him in the press box. He got in, I didn’t. He was up there helping the coaches from Notre Dame call the plays.”
Sarf also acknowledged how much pride the Plymouth and Larksville area displayed with Mazur being the head coach of the Patriots and having played at Notre Dame. Mazur’s wife, Bernadine, was originally from Larksville, and currently resides in Mount Laurel, New Jersey.
“He was happy and go lucky,” Sarf said. “He was a family man, a great athlete. I thought he was a better basketball player than football player. He played center field on the baseball team. Just a regular guy. When the guys from Plymouth would go up to New England on a bus trip, he would meet them at the hotel the night before the game. They would have a couple of drinks. They loved him and he loved them. He never forgot where he came from.”
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