When Terry Holland was on a search committee to find a new North Andover High School varsity football coach 12 years ago, he was impressed by then-candidate John Rafferty, whom he'd never heard of before then.
"In high school football, you play with passion, and that's what separates you from the next guy," Holland said. "I had never seen a guy who had more passion for the game than that guy."
And today Holland -- owner of Stachey's who was also named "Unofficial Mayor of North Andover" last year by Patch readers -- has stepped up to support Rafferty, who was fired by school officials last week.
Holland and Rafferty worked together for the Scarlet Knights over the years, in endeavors that included the annual golf tournament to benefit the team.
"We're talking about a guy who, if you sat with him, he'd never tell you a positive thing about himself, only positive things about his kids," Holland said of Rafferty.
School officials have not spoken publicly about the firing, but Rafferty has reportedly said he was let go because he disciplined two students this past fall without following established protocol.
But that discipline, Holland said, is what earned Rafferty respect.
"It's major part of who he is, a disciplinarian," Holland said. "Every single kid on that team is a family. Whether you're in the hall, or somewhere outside school, you represent football and the team, and that's why he expected nothing else, from himself or from his team."
Holland added that at one league title game, a player got a personal foul and Rafferty pulled him out of the game. The Scarlet Knights lost that game.
"He gave up the league title because that's the way he lives," Holland said. "He set an example every day. He was not willing to give up his principles for it."
Holland didn't say whether he expects the rally of support for Rafferty to change the school administration's decision. But he said it's about more than just this firing and mentioned previous coach firings in recent years.
"Even if we can't bring coach Rafferty back, everybody wants to shine a light on the problem here with the admin," Holland said. "I think they're trying to get rid of all the 'dinosaurs' because they want bring in younger people for whatever reason. Good people are being walked out the door for no reason. Anyone who thinks these coaches get paid well is out of their minds. They do it for the love, for the love of the kids, for the love of the sports."
School officials still have not commented publicly on the matter, but this week, there is a new job posting online for the North Andover Varsity Football coach.
And the Facebook page dedicated to supporting Rafferty seems to be hinting at a desire to see the School Department get rid of Longley when his contract ends in June. Posts on that page imply that Longley has been planning to give the coach position to a new gym teacher who came to North Andover from Beverly -- where Scuzzarella was principal before coming to North Andover -- whom Longley coached with before.
That page has garnered about 600 fans as of Wednesday night and, according to the page administrator, has been viewed more than 12,000 times.
And at Tuesday's basketball game, people were chanting "Bring back Raff!"
People supporting Rafferty were expected to speak at the upcoming School Committee meeting Monday, but Holland said the School Committee would not put that on the agenda with the busy budget season so they may have to wait for the public comments part toward the end of that meeting.
"These people are in their system and need to be heard," Holland said. "We have people who have flown in from out of town just to be around for this."