A Real Character: TV’s ‘Coach Mellor’ is Based on a Longtime Stone Harbor Lifeguard
By Jack McCaffery
Comedian Bryan Callen, cast as Coach Mellor.
Rickey Mellor poses on the set in California with Troy Gentile, who plays Barry Goldberg.
Their vantage point secured, their anticipation rising, Rick Mellor and his wife Mary were waiting with a crowd of Stone Harbor residents for the start of the annual Festival of Lights boat parade. When a nearby conversation turned familiar, Mellor knew what to do. A retired lifeguard, and a good one, he dived right in.
“There were some people talking about ‘The Goldbergs’ TV show,” Mellor said. “And I asked, ‘Do you know who that phys ed teacher is?’ They said, ‘Yeah, our kids think he is really neat.’ I said, ‘Wellllll … I’m him.’
“And they started laughing.”
After all these years, a longtime serious Stone Harbor Beach Patrol lieutenant, a family man and devoted coach, Rickey Mellor, as his friends still call him, had become a rod for comic lightning.
That Rickey Mellor?
Mellor is 68, hasn’t climbed to a lifeguard perch at the 105th Street beach since 1991, and never did consider himself a particularly comic figure. But he did teach physical education and for 33 years was the baseball coach at Penn Charter, the Philadelphia prep school that inspired the fictional William Penn Academy in “Schooled,” the popular “Goldbergs” spin-off on ABC. Written and produced by Adam Goldberg, Mellor’s former Penn Charter student, the sitcom playfully exaggerates the main characters, with California stand-up comedian/actor Bryan Callen as Coach Rick Mellor.
On the beach in Stone Harbor circa 1990s (from left): Rickey Mellor, John Lockery and Chris Armao.
“It’s funny, the guy that plays his character is way more reasoned and compassionate than Rick Mellor ever was,” deadpans Arizona psychiatrist Dr. Frank Armao, who was a frat brother of Mellor at the University of Pennsylvania and a fellow Stone Harbor lifeguard. “He actually does Rick a favor.”
With that, Armao turns more serious. “When you think about Rick, you can certainly see the humor and the spirit, so it all makes sense. He is a great guy. He’s just a funny guy. He’s the kind of guy you always wanted to hang out with, the best of friends. He is an incredible person. So, he deserves it as much as anybody, put it that way.”
His hair has turned white, but Mellor is still lifeguard-trim. Though he retired as head baseball coach in 2012, he continues to assist with the Penn Charter football team, and is the coach of the middle-school basketball team. A resident of Plymouth Meeting, Pa., Mellor remains a regular visitor to the Stone Harbor area. He is in his 21st summer as the driving force behind the Richie Ashburn/Harry Kalas Baseball Foundation, which provides free baseball instruction to youths in various locales around Philadelphia. That tour, already at capacity, will hit 35th Street and Haven Avenue in Ocean City, Aug. 5-8.
On set of ‘Schooled’ (from left): Bryan Callen as Coach Mellor, Tim Meadows as Principal Glascott and AJ Michalka as Lainey Lewis.
That doesn’t leave much free time to critique his TV character, though he has become friendly with Callen. They have spent time together in California and he regularly enjoys Callen’s standup at the Helium Comedy Club in Philadelphia.
“In the beginning, I really didn’t know the show was on,” Mellor says. “A neighbor called my wife and said, ‘Is that show about Rick?’ I said, ‘What are they talking about?’ They said it was a show, ‘The Goldbergs.’ When the character did his first episode, we started doing some more research. I’ve seen most of the shows now.”
“He’s used a lot of liberties,” Mellor says with a smile. “It’s fun in a sense. But I have to explain myself to a lot of people: ‘Is it true?’ ‘A little bit?’ ‘Did we play dodgeball?’ ‘Yes.’ After they did the show on dodgeball, it brought it back to life. Kids wanted to play again.
“Little things are true, but Adam does take a few liberties. Bryan Callen is tremendous and Adam has my character doing some crazy things. In one episode, he had me trying to date this one teacher and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, am I going to hear about this.’ Within seconds I had three texts from former teachers, busting my chops.
The Penn Charter guards in front of the SHBP shack (from left): John Hack, Buck Henry, Jay Curcio,
Rickey Mellor, Ed Malandro and Ron McCloskey.
“Kidding, I told Adam, ‘You already have enough to work with about me, you don’t really need to make some of this stuff up, do you?’ ”
Just the same, Mellor has so embraced “The Goldbergs” saga that he has begun to suggest story ideas.
“From his days as a lifeguard, he has been pitching a ‘Baywatch’ episode, which I hope to do this year,” Goldberg says in a phone interview from California. “So now he’s even pitching episodes for his own character, which I love. When it comes from the real person, I’ve got to do it.”
If Goldberg and Callen need more inspiration for the Stone Harbor story arc, it easily could come from Mellor’s former buddies on the lifeguard stands, the ones who used to boast that they “Kept them alive at 1-0-5.”
“He always regarded himself as a dumb jock,” says Gene Armao, Frank’s brother, a former Stone Harbor lifeguard and a Penn football teammate of Mellor. “It’s not what he was, but he loved to play that role. We were in a film class with a real hotshot, intellectual professor. It wasn’t just a history of film, it was film in society, film and the history of ideas. So, we had to write this term paper. People wrote about existentialism in Ingmar Bergman films or political protests in American films. Serious stuff like that. And Rickey had a dog at the time, a big, lovable Saint Bernard named Jacques. And he loved Jacques. So, he decided to write a paper on dogs in the movies.
Rickey Mellor and his wife Mary on the set with Bryan Callen.
“So, we always laugh at him and tease him mercilessly about dogs in movies. But Rickey always laughed and said it was ‘Dogs in the Cinema.’ He’d say, ‘I called it cinema, not movies.’ That’s classic Rick Mellor. I couldn’t find something bad to say about him if I wanted to.
“Obviously, that guy who writes those sitcoms really loves Rick. You’ve seen the sitcom, ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’? Well, everybody loves Rickey. I don’t know how he comes across in the show, but in real life everybody loves Rickey.”
Include Goldberg in that cast.
“The teachers that I didn’t love are not in the show,” he says, “because I don’t want to reach out to them and talk to them. It’s the teachers that I love and still idolize, and the ones that I am passionate about. The show ‘Schooled’ is really just a love letter and a tribute to the great teachers that you remember.”
Mellor is fondly remembered at Penn Charter, and remembered, too, from the ’70s and ’80s and the times he spent at the shore, as a lifeguard, as a phenomenal shortstop … and as a dancer?
“In the disco days, we used to joke and call him the Disco Duck, because he used to dress up and he could do ‘The Hustle’ and all that stuff,” says Sam Wierman, a former Stone Harbor Beach Patrol captain who runs the Ide Insurance agency on 98th Street. “It was funny. Rickey was a character. He was a great athlete. Tremendous. One of the best athletes I have ever known as far as playing baseball, basketball and football.
“But they used his character there because he made such an impression on those kids when they were there.”
Mellor says he receives a small payment for the use of his name and likeness for each episode of “Schooled” (he signed off his rights to the Goldbergs), and the money came at a good time. He has used the money to finance regular trips to watch his daughter, Macaul, play lacrosse for the University of Colorado, where she starts as a defensive midfielder. He also has a son, Brennan, a Temple graduate.
As for the “Coach Mellor” character, it is a tribute to one of the most legendary coaching figures in Philadelphia high school sports history, a winner of 11 Inter-Ac League championships who sent two players to the major leagues: pitcher Mark Gubicza and outfielder Ruben Amaro Jr.
Gubicza has been mentioned on the show, though they butchered his name, and Amaro has actually been on the show in a couple of episodes, playing the part of his father.
“I think the coaching made me a better lifeguard, because you learn how to educate people and work with people,” says Mellor, who was raised in Schwenksville, Pa. “Most of the time when I was there, you were dealing with younger kids with big egos. Most of those kids they hire are excellent swimmers or good athletes and just have to learn to work with people.
“We are the first people that vacationers look to when they get to the beach. And you have to learn how to handle people, how to talk to people. So, the coaching made it easier to teach younger kids how to do their job and how responsible you have to be for that job. It’s a life-or-death job. You make one mistake and you are ruined for life, basically.
“We did all right.”
They did all right, and they had fun, too. Mellor organized a wildly successful softball team, The Squids, and was known to be quite a point guard at the basketball courts along the shore.
“Rickey was always kidded that he was ‘Just a phys ed teacher,’ ” says Cape May Courthouse resident Bob Stewart, like Mellor a retired educator and Stone Harbor lifeguard. “A lot of guys he played football with or were in his fraternity house went on to be psychiatrists, a lieutenant governor, writers, very highly successful people. And Rickey was like, ‘I’m a gym teacher.’
“But he was very proud of it. Anyway, he would be kidded sometimes. But guess who is in Hollywood right now? Guess who is Mr. Hollywood?
“Well, he got the last laugh.”
August 2019 Articles: