By Elizabeth McNamara
Coventry resident Tom Coyle did not set out to be a town manager. And he didn't take a typical route. But on Tuesday, Nov. 12, he officially becomes East Greenwich's new town manager, relinquishing his police chief's job and stepping away from a life in law enforcement.
At its meeting Tuesday night, the Town Council will recognize Coyle for his 25 years of service to the town as a police officer.
Coyle, 50, grew up in Coventry, just a few doors down from where he lives now. His father was a car salesman; his mother worked for the Coventry School Department. Coyle went to Bishop Hendriken, where he made All State for football. After high school, he went to Roger Williams University, earning a degree in criminal justice.
Upon graduation, Coyle said, he applied for police jobs across the state.
East Greenwich was hiring special (part-time) officers – Coyle was one of 10 guys who made it through the agility tests. But it would be nearly two years before he was actually hired by the EGPD. The first step was a night course at Brown with a written test at the end. Then he had to qualify for handgun and arrest techniques. Meanwhile, a job at the Department of Corrections opened up. Coyle took it but was still hoping for a job with EGPD, so he worked days at the prison and then checked in at EGPD, where he'd would work from 5:30 to 11 p.m. four to five nights a week without getting paid.
"The chief wanted to see who was interested in the job," Coyle said, referring to then-Chief John Botelho. "I did that for almost a year and a half. That's how you got the job. Finally I got the call from Chief Botelho – 'You showed some interest. Want to go to the academy?'"
With that, Coyle's career in corrections ended. He looks back at his two years of working at the ACI as instructive.
"It gave me a nice foundation, especially dealing with different types of people," he said. "Coming [to East Greenwich] was a pretty easy transition. One thing I learned in the prison was always be consistent – stay consistent. And if you can't do something, be straightforward."
While Coyle wanted to succeed, he said he didn't really look beyond the next rung up.
"I was caught up trying to become the next rank." When he became sergeant, he said, "It was the best thing since sliced bread."
When he made detective, that was even better. He was doing courts, working days Mondays through Fridays.
"I said, 'I'm going to stay here for the rest of my career,'" he recalled.
But when Dave Desjarlais became chief, he decided to put a lieutenant in the courts position. Coyle made lieutenant but ended up working 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. again for four years.
"You do what you have to do to get through," he said.
When Bill Higgins retired, Coyle went for the captain's position and got it. By then, he'd gotten a master's degree in criminal justice from the University of Cincinnati. He spent three years as Desjarlais' number two, then was promoted to chief when Desjarlais retired in 2010.
During Coyle's tenure as chief, the department has made several high-profile arrests, including three members of the Campellone family, who allegedly operated a marijuana grow-and-sell operation out of their Adirondack Drive house, in June 2012, and the arrests of three people in connection to a home invasion on Middle Road in May 2012.
His handling of the Campellone arrests earned him the respect of residents in the Adirondack neighborhood, who had been complaining of suspicious behavior at the house for several months.
When asked what he was most proud of, however, Coyle referred to his rapport with the men and women in the department.
"Three years without one grievance filed. I am proud of that."
Former Town Manager Bill Sequino's announcement in June that he was leaving came as a surprise to Coyle, but he was quick to seize the opportunity.
"'Jeepers,' I said to myself, 'I know the layout of the town, I've prepared budgets, I've managed 34 people. I can do this.'"
After the Town Council named Coyle interim town manager, he quickly decided to put in for the permanent position.
In his off time – of which there hasn't been much lately, he said – Coyle likes to play guitar. He owns 16 guitars, from acoustic to electric. He called himself a "huge fan" of Paul Stanley signature guitars. He's also something of a health nut. He's run several marathons, including the Boston three times. He's also done half-Ironman competitions. One of the first things he did after moving into the town manager's office at Town Hall was to install a bottled water dispenser in his office – he drinks a LOT of water.
Coyle, who is not married, also has a 20-year-old son.
Even though he's been a lifelong resident of Coventry, his devotion to East Greenwich, where he's spent nearly all of his career, is clear.
"We have one of the best communities in the state along with our schools. I call East Greenwich a 'sense of place,'" he said. "It's where people want to come and be a part of."