Local coaching legend Eddie Kassler dies

He stood as a strong and respected man in Northeastern Pennsylvania and across the state.

A man of great faith and conviction, passionate about basketball and civil rights, Eddie Kassler was as much a pioneer as he was a gentleman.

On Monday, the once-respected high school coach at St. Rose in Carbondale and later a father-figure as a college coach at Oneonta State, died in Florida, conjuring up memories of an easy-going family man, who committed himself whole-heartedly to basketball.

"He was John Wayne," said former St. Rose, Sacred Heart and Wallenpaupack boys basketball coach George Werthmuller, who played for Kassler at Oneonta State. "He never wore a jacket, no matter how cold it was. He was a very, very strong man with a calm exterior.

"He was a man's man."

A native of New York, and an imposing figure at 6 feet, 7 inches tall, he impacted the area first as a professional player for the Scranton Miners of the American Basketball League, averaging 10.4 points per game in his five-year career that ended with the 1952-53 season. But his greatest contribution came as a likeable and knowledgeable coach.

Devoted to the fundamentals of the game, Kassler helped build St. Rose into a Pennsylvania Catholic League power. His team won a state championship in 1955, Pittsburgh North Catholic, 73-56, a powerful team coached by Hall of Fame coach Don Graham, who won more than 800 games in 51 seasons. Then Kassler moved on to Oneonta State.

While at St. Rose, Kassler's teams won two diocesan Class A titles and one Class B crown.

"He knew how to love kids," former Scranton Times sports editor John McCormick said. "As an athletic director, as a coach at St. Rose, and as a citizen in Carbondale, he made a big name for himself. He was never a tough guy inside, except on the court. Inside he was a lovable man. I'm sorry to hear that he died.

"I knew a great guy."

Coaching collegiately during an era of social unrest and racial tension, Kassler dedicated himself to promoting harmony. By all accounts, his approach to the game mimicked his approach to life.

Wearing his emotions on his sleeve while intructing from the bench, it wouldn't be hard to receive his messages, and a school black board had no chance against his brute strength during any of his impassioned, motivatonal halftime speeches.

But through it all, his patience with kids and the sculpting and enhancing of their skills were considered his greatest contributions.

"He was a very easy-going coach," Werthmuller emphasized. "Very patient. For somebody like me, who was not a particularly gifted high school player, he worked hard with us. He was very volatile, and a fundamentally sound coach. He allowed kids to find their own way.

"His faith, I'm sure, carried him all the way to his death. He is in a place where he belongs."

Contact the writer: jbfawcett@timesshamrock.com