CLOSE local sports columnist Darren Cooper discusses the retirement of former Paramus Catholic President Jim Vail.

The flags were tacked up against the wall, making for one of the most unique and colorful backdrops to any office in North Jersey. They came from countries far and wide, a reminder of all the places he had been.

And sitting behind the broad, dark desk was one of the most unique figures within our borders. Loved, yes, believe it, he was loved. By some. Respected. Feared. Misunderstood.

Yes, Jim Vail was all those things.

Ask most people in the North Jersey athletics community about now-retired Paramus Catholic President Jim Vail and usually you provoke anger, suspicion.

“I don’t like him,” was what one prominent North Jersey coach said to me many years ago. “I think he’s evil.”

“Very, very strange,” said another coach, who worked at Paramus Catholic for a while. “But he’s also very smart.”

The first time I met Jim Vail I had been on the job at The Record for just a few months.

The Paladins were hiring a new football coach and there was to be a grand announcement in the school auditorium. At the time, the best way to describe the football program was… floundering. lists eight different head coaches for Paramus Catholic since 2000, which roughly coincides with Vail’s tenure, but it doesn’t include the man who was supposed to be introduced that day: Ed Stinson.

But it never happened.

Stinson came. Stinson left. The kids in the auditorium were fed and sent home. Stinson never became the Paladins head coach. I was told to meet with an attorney for the school and left more confused than when I got there. The whole thing reeked of….floundering.

I got to know Vail a little bit more…