Joseph Kopnisky was a football star at West Virginia University who went on to a decadeslong career in coaching.
It was what he wanted.
“I consider myself very fortunate in spending practically my entire life doing something I wanted to do, and that’s to coach football and work with young people,” Mr. Kopnisky said when accepting induction into the Western Chapter Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.
Mr. Kopnisky, 78, of Grove City, Mercer County, died Thursday morning of an apparent heart attack, said his daughter, Jill Kopnisky Clark.
Mr. Kopnisky was an All-WPIAL football player at Shaler High School in 1953. He chose to continue his football career at West Virginia University where he was an All-Conference player and a second-team academic All-American.
After college, he began his coaching career at Wilkinsburg High School where he was assistant football coach and head tennis coach. In his first year, the football team won the WPIAL title, and the tennis team won section championships. This was the start of a long, distinguished coaching career.
He then returned to his alma mater, Shaler, and became an assistant football coach at Shaler High School, as well as head of the wrestling program.
Being head of the wrestling program at Shaler served as a stepping-stone for him to became the head wrestling coach at Grove City College in 1965. He also was an assistant football and track coach during this time.
In 1973, he shifted from head wrestling coach to head football coach at Grove City. He served as head football coach from 1973 to 1983 at the college.
He then finished his coaching career at Slippery Rock University. There, Mr. Kopnisky was defensive coordinator. He retired in 2000, ending a 44-year career.
“Football was his passion,” Mrs. Clark said. “We would be out to dinner at a restaurant and he’d be doing the X’s and O’s on a napkin. He wanted to be excellent, and he was.”
In 2011, Mr. Kopnisky’s coaching earned him a spot in the western chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.
On the outside, he displayed the characteristics of a former athlete and strong-willed coach, but on the inside he was a helpful and compassionate individual, his daughter said.
“He would take phone calls at midnight to help players,” Mrs. Clark said. “He was very supportive, soft, gentle and caring. He was the patriarch of our family.”
In addition to Mrs. Clark of Naperville, Ill., Mr. Kopnisky is survived by his wife, Joan; his son, Jack Kopnisky of Mahwah, N.J.; and daughter Jill Kopnisky Clark of Naperville Ill.; his brothers James Kopnisky of Florida and Robert “Bob” Kopnisky of Carmel, Ind.
Friends may call at 9:45 a.m. Saturday at Grace United Methodist Church, 210 S. Broad St., Grove City, PA. A service will follow at 11 a.m. An open house will follow the ceremony at 1175 East Pine St., Grove City.
Ryan Petrovich: firstname.lastname@example.org.