As the school’s first athletic director and only coach, Leo Long built Father Ryan’s reputation for athletic success.
He joined the staff of Father Ryan in 1925, teaching history and coaching basketball, baseball and football. He built a legendary reputation for his fair and disciplined approach to coaching, emphasizing “clean sportsmanship” while producing multiple state championships.
His 1930 football team, then known as the Panthers, claimed the state title.
That began the era of the“Big Four” football powers in Nashville — Father Ryan, Montgomery Bell Academy, Hillsboro, Isaac Litton — and their rivalries. In the case of Father Ryan and MBA, it lasts to this day.
Long’s 1927 basketball squad also captured the crown, drawing the attention of sports fans across the region. That team’s performance led to an invitation to the Catholic High School Tournament staged by Loyola of Chicago each year. Coach Long took the Father Ryan basketball team to the Windy City annually from 1930 through the early 1940s, and brought back two 3rd place trophies, facing some of the best schools from around the country and furthering Father Ryan’s reputation for athletic excellence.
Although Long was known for coaching men’s athletics, he also coached women’s teams. In the 1940s he was the head coach for two Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) women’s teams, the Goldblumes and Nashville Business College.
After Long, the next coach who had any kind of rival tenure at Father Ryan was Louis Catignani, who coached from 1955 through 1973.
In all those years he never captured a state title, but his overall record was well above .500 at 109-66-12.
The year after he left, first-year coach Boots Donnelly led the Irish to a perfect 13-0 record and another state title.
It would be another 20 years before the Irish got that far into the post-season again. In 1997, the Irish had another undefeated season, going 12-0 and winning their third title.