In the days before the running boom, when running truly was an amateur game, the horizon for a post-collegiate athlete was always close at hand. Once college eligibility ran out, a career lasted, generally, through the first post-graduate Olympic cycle before the responsibilities of life assumed a central focus. Few athletes could explore their athletic peaks through their late 20s, early 30s. There was no system in place for a post-collegiate athlete to adopt.
But a year after the 1972 Munich Games, a small group of dedicated post-collegiate runners in Boston met at the Roberts Center on the campus of Boston College and formed what came to be (arguably) the best running club in the nation. But what they needed more than members was a coach.
The man they asked to write their workouts was a 40-year-old native of Arlington, Mass. who had been an All-American in the mile at Notre Dame and currently was the eccentric but highly regarded track and cross country coach at Boston State College. His name was Bill Squires.
Over the next decade, any time the red-and-white GBTC singlet arrived at a track, cross country, or road race, respect and fear mingled in the hearts of its opponents. Names like Bill Rodgers, Alberto Salazar, Greg Meyer, Bobby Hodge, Randy Thomas, Dick Mahoney, and many, many more stood atop podiums at races all over the country and world.
But the Greater Boston Track Club stood for more than racing excellence. Molded by its quirky but lovable coach – a truly Runyonesque character some called “the Casey Stengel of running” for his discombobulation of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style – GBTC cemented friendships that have lasted to this day. There was no clubhouse, as such, only the legendary Eliot Lounge where Bill held court at his “Coach’s Corner”.
Yesterday, two dozen of Coach Squires’ minions from GBTC and Boston State got together on a Zoom call to say thanks again and to celebrate the coach’s 88th birthday. His influence upon each of his athletes was foundational and life-long – once you came to decipher the particular peculiarities of his accent and stream of consciousness pronouncements.
Charismatic and confusing, confident and meandering, Coach Squires was and remains driven by his love for the sport and those who practice its arts. And over that stretch of time, he has has come to be recognized as one of America’s greatest distance coaches ever.
Here are just a few of the memories shared:
Bill Rodgers (4x Boston & NYC Marathon champion, 3x world No. 1): “We all benefited from knowing Bill. We all love the sport and we got that from Coach. I still think he’s one of the greatest coaches in the country.”
Jack McDonald, Co-founder, GBTC, 4:00 miler: “I want to thank you, Coach, for putting me on the right path. A guy with a 1.8 GPA that you told to go back to grad school. And I doubled my grades just by showing up for class. I remember the ride back from the 1974 Millrose Games. Donnie Ricciato was in the middle seat between me and Coach and Coach told him to get in the back with Bob Sevene and Dave Eliot, because he was getting in the way of passing the beer.”
Pat Doherty, Boston State, Class of ‘76: “It was never about you, always about us. You always told us, “get your degree and get the hell out of here.”
Alberto Salazar, 3x NYC and 1982 Boston Marathon champion: “I was just a scrawny little sophomore in high school when Kirk Pfrangle asked if I wanted to do workouts with the Greater Boston team. My father thought Kirk and Coach Squires were Castro agents, so he wanted to talk to Kirk first. It took me a while to figure out what Coach was telling me – and it was all done on napkins – but when I didn’t know where life would go, you and the Greater Boston Track Club were so nice and hospitable. You taught me the greatest thing was to help other people. You always had a helping hand out when anyone had a need.”
Dick Mahoney, 10th place 1979 Boston Marathon: “I think back to the beginning of the GBTC at our first meeting at Boston College. And at the end of the night, for you to say that you would come and coach us, I think back and remember how much it meant to us. And then my first marathon was in Buffalo and you said I could run 2:17, and that that would win it. And it did. Unfortunately, it wasn’t me. I blew up at 21 miles. But just a few months later I ran 2:14 at Boston. During workouts, Al and I would always tangle feet and you said “if you trip him, you’re off the team.”
Don Ricciato, Co-founder, GBTC: “Coach, it’s hard to believe you’re 88. Thank you for the opportunity you gave us to compete after college. You always sacrificed for us. When our first 2-mile relay team had to share a room at the Penn Relays, you slept on the floor so we could have the beds.”
John “Jocko” Connelly, Boston Herald sportswriter, Boston State grad: “I would like to thank you on behalf of all your runners. You’re number one advice, always have a Plan B. And because of that, we never panicked. You taught us to rely on our Plan B.”
Wayne Frongello, Boston State, Class of ‘73: “You took me places I couldn’t imagine. You enabled me to dream.”
Tom Grilk, CEO, Boston Athletic Association, Ex-President, GBTC: “When we had our first race to raise money for the club, you were a race marshal for the original Freedom Trail Road Race. And we stationed you along the Central Artery stopping traffic, much of it on its way to Logan Airport. And you were assaulted by a lady with an umbrella. But you held your ground. From one Wakefield Warrior to another, happy birthday. ( Coach Squires once taught science at Wakefield HS when Grilk was a guppy.
Dave McGillivray, race director, Boston Marathon: “The first time we met, Freddie Doyle introduced us at a Boston College workout. And I remember I wanted so much to make the club. And Freddy said, “here’s Dave, he just finished running across the country. And you said “well, I guess you’ve got a good base.” And one of the things you said that stuck with me. You said to run eight repeat miles on the track. And the average time for those 8 miles, it’s 30-seconds per mile slower pace that you can run for a marathon. You were a genius, you knew exact what you were talking about.”
Greg Meyer, 1983 Boston Marathon champion: “When I first got to Boston (from Michigan) I thought you were crazy. And it proved true. But you changed our lives because you taught us beyond the sport. But I also remember the time you talked (first wife) Paula and I to go to a strip club. I don’t know how you did it, but you had the gift.”
Randy Thomas, 5th, 1979 Boston Marathon, long-time Boston College coach: “GBTC was always a family thanks to Jack Mac and Coach Squires. Bill was the most giving person I ever met. You would hear stories all the time about Boston State kids who didn’t have money for their next textbook. And it was uncanny how each year the coach would reach into his pocket for a $20 bill to help.”
Mike Roche, 1976 Olympic steeplechaser: “Happy birthday, Coach. All the people here tonight are lifelong friends. Maybe we can borrow that thing you used to wear atop your head.“
Amby Burfoot, 1968 Boston Marathon champion, former editor-in-chief, Runners World Magazine: “Everyone always thought that I was from Boston, but I was just a little bit south in New London, Connecticut. But all you guys represented something, the original blue-collar, working-class running club. You showed the power of the club and the passion with a brilliant but eccentric coach. So here’s a birthday toast, Coach. I think of Don Kardong’s immortal words, ‘every runner feels the need to end the week with a round number, so they try to hit 100 miles.’ Well, 88 is way rounder than 100. Hope it’s a great birthday year for you.”
Freddie Doyle, meeting co-chair, GBTC stalwart: “Nobody else could’ve gotten this group together tonight. It’s a testament to you, Coach. Thanks for the years of wisdom advice and inspiration. We always enjoyed your sense of humor and part of it was to take our minds off the difficulty of the work out you gave us. Also, thank you for all the money making tips. There’s not a toll booth I don’t go by that I don’t looked down for loose quarters. And I can’t go into any restaurant without thinking about “Miss Melrose of 1974”. When off the clock, it was your personality that brought us together.”
Mark Duggan, meeting co-chair, Boston State and GBTC: “We usually we get together with the coach every few weeks where the western omelette is the entrée of choice. We’re hoping to find a new dining establishment and a new entrée as Coach usually only ate the eastern half of his western omelette. But coach, you always taught us how to get through adversity. Like when we had a flat tire on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and how we had to push the car to get to the place to get a new tire. We never forget those lessons, finding ways of getting things done.”
Coach Squires: “I haven’t taught you how to grow hair. The thing is, you people haven’t aged at all! Thank you for coming. I hope you had a good time, and be careful.”
It was an hour-plus of laughs and memories of a time when we were young and fast and carefree. Marathon Sports CEO Thom Gilligan reminded us that Coach had once been written up as One of Boston’s Most Eligible Bachelors. Scotty Graham recalled the road trip to Annapolis, “No, there were no stops on the way home from that trip!” Several folks saluted the memory of club co-founder Kirk Pfrangle.Those friendships and stories have endured.
A Bill Squires Track Legacy Fund has been established to help promising young runners who haVe already survived year one in college, but need help as he/she heads into their sophomore year. Please send donations to, 26 Oak Ridge Rd, Reading, MA 01867 ( this is 501c3). Donations of any amount would be received gratefully.
On to 89, Coach. Love from us all.
For a deeper dive into Coach Squires, pick up a copy of Paul Cleric’s excellent bookS:
Born to Coach: The Story of Bill Squires, the Legendary Coach of the Greatest Generation of American Distance Runners – Paul C. Clerici