SRU mourns the passing of DiSpirito


Former SRU head football coach John DiSpirito


Dec. 21, 2015

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Slippery Rock University, the football program and the athletic department mourn the loss of former Rock head football coach and SRU faculty member Bob DiSpirito, who passed away Dec. 21.

DiSpirito was inducted into the SRU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1985 for his contributions to the university as a head football coach from 1967-80. After stepping away from coaching following the 1980 season, he returned to the sideline in 1987 for a one-year stint as interim head coach to help guide The Rock back to its roots before handing the program off to George Mihalik in 1988.

"There aren't enough words to describe what Coach D meant to the Slippery Rock University football program and to me personally," said Mihalik. "I had the privilege to play for him, learn from him and coach under him. The family culture and trying to win the right way are things that he brought to this program. They are the things that we have continued for nearly three decades since he coached his last game and they are the things this program will always pride itself on. I can't thank him enough for teaching me that. I owe my whole career to coach D."

DiSpirito, who the field at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium is named after, owns the third most wins of any football coach in program history, behind only his mentee Mihalik and N. Kerr Thompson, who coached for 26 seasons from 1920-45.

When DiSpirito was asked by former SRU President Robert Aebersold to step in and take over as interim head coach in 1987, he obliged purely out of passion for the Slippery Rock program.

"The main thrust of what I am trying to do is rebuild the program from the inside out," said DiSpirito before the 1987 season. "I'm concerned with the academic accountability and developing a philosophy that will move the program forward while creating harmony among students, faculty, staff and the community. This is not an ego trip. Slippery Rock football is important to me and I care about the future of the program. Everything I do is for the success of the program."

DiSpirito finished his 15-year head coaching career at The Rock with a 79-60-3 record and .567 winning percentage. He led the team to three straight Pennsylvania State titles from 1972-74 and posted a 60-33-3 record from 1971-80, which included a 45-18-3 mark against conference opponents and a 32-9-2 record at home. Mihalik was involved with all three of those title runs, serving as the starting quarterback in 1972 and 1973 and serving as a graduate assistant with the team in 1974. DiSpirito and Mihalik are the only coaches in program history to lead teams to three straight titles. Mihalik did it with The Rock from 1997-99 and again the past three seasons (2013-15).

Prior to accepting the head coaching position at Slippery Rock, DiSpirito spent three years as an assistant coach at Bucknell University and five years as the head coach at the University of Bridgeport. He also coached at Cheshire Academy in Connecticut.

In his 22-year career as a head coach, DiSpirito posted a 100-80-4 record.

A native of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, DiSpirito graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 1953 after earning All-America honors and serving as the team captain his senior year. He would later be inducted into the Rhode Island Athletic Hall of Fame. DiSpirito went on to earn a master's degree from Columbia University Teacher's College and put that degree to work at Slippery Rock when he began teaching in the parks and recreation department in 1967.

DiSpirito continued teaching at Slippery Rock after stepping down from coaching and remained a member of the University faculty until his retirement in 1998. He was instrumental in assisting President Aebersold with the research and planning for SRU's Aebersold Recreation Center, which was built in 1998.

The father of five children with his wife Marilyn, DiSpirito remained a Slippery Rock resident in retirement until his passing.

Service dates and times
Dec. 27, 2-4 p.m.: Visitation at Newman Center, 342 Normal Ave., Slippery Rock
Dec. 28, 4-7 p.m.: Visitation at Newman Center, 342 Normal Ave., Slippery Rock
Dec. 29, 11 a.m.: Funeral service at St. Peter Church, 670 South Main St., Slippery Rock

MEDIA CONTACT: Jon Holtz | 724.738.4925 |