FAIRFIELD — When Ed Huydic stepped down as Staples’ girls basketball coach last spring, an immediate return to the sideline was the farthest thing on his mind.
Invoking a classic by his favorite singer, Huydic said, “Leaving Staples was like when Bob Dylan sang Slow Train Coming. It was my time. Thirty-four years is a great legacy. There were some fantastic memories of a lifetime, I recognized that. Once I thought about it, the decision came easy. It really was my time.”
Only it wasn’t.
For two decades Huydic had a rivalry with Fairfield Warde coach Dave Danko on the court and a close bond off of it.
“In the offseason it is not like we are strangers,” Huydic said. “We might run into each other in our favorite cafe and talk basketball.”
Last summer those discussions evolved into much more than strategy.
“Coach Danko and myself got to talking more than a few times and that led to talking about his program and how I might be able to fit in and help out. By the late summer I kind of knew what I was going to be doing.”
And thus was formed a high school coaching duo, to borrow from the past, with the respect and renown of MacNeil-Lehrer and the antics of Felix and Oscar.
“There is a lot of fun happening in this gym on a daily basis,” Huydic said. “When Coach Danko gets strict, things calm down. Being here gives me the opportunity to maintain my passion but it is less stressful and less demanding of me. It is a niche I can really fit.”
It isn’t too often coaches with 453 career wins, with one state and four league titles, come on the open market. The Wreckers under Huydic reached the state tournament 28 straight times, a streak that ended in 2012.
Lets just say Danko didn’t need to do a background check.
“I’ve been here for 21 years and I always tried to emulate my program after Ed Huydic and the Staples Wreckers,” Danko said. “He knows so much about the game. When I was a young coach and trying to get respect, I always tried to pick his brain. I still do.”
So far the veteran coaching staff has meshed well with a young team full on potential but short on experience. Despite just one senior on the roster, the Mustangs are 9-0, along with St. Joseph the only unbeaten team in the FCIAC. There is no doubt the players’ development has been expedited by the added quality tutelage at their disposal.
“He really knows the game and works hard with us,” Lejla Markovic, the Mustangs’ junior point guard, said of Huydic. “He will work with us as long as we want after practice and he is fun to be around.”
During a recent practice, the scene in the Warde gymnasium seemed familiar to what used to take place seven miles south, in the Staples Fieldhouse. Huydic watched studiously as drills were performed. He took time to help several players with their foul shooting.
Most of all was the look of content.
“As far as basketball, it’s in my blood,” Huydic said. “I didn’t give coaching another thought last year, although in the back of my mind if an opportunity presented itself I certainly would have looked at it. My immediate thinking was, OK, this is great. No open gyms in the spring, no summer leagues, no fall leagues. Free time, I’ve got a life. I figured winter road trips upstate to watch games or watch boys basketball games, something a girls coach never gets to do.”
As Huydic spoke, Danko was unable to conceal a chuckle.
“No one makes adjustments on the fly like Coach Huydic,” Danko said. “I approached him and gave him the opportunity to come aboard with me. A guy with over 400 wins and 34 years experience, how do you let a guy like that just go see upstate games? The fire was definitely there, and with the team I had here, it was a perfect fit. The girls have taken to him.”
It is a sort of homecoming for Huydic, whose three sons are Warde graduates. Huydic said at one point he even informally assisted the Mustangs’ boys team during practices when his son Phil played before going to work with the Wreckers.
“This is my neighborhood school,” Huydic said.
For those who thought there might be a clashing of egos between a pair of Type-A personalties, the fit has been seamless.
“I came in here with the understanding why I was here,” Huydic said. “I have observations I make during the game that Coach wants me to do. We have that kind of relationship. I haven’t had to suppress. I’ve been excitable but in a way that’s appropriate. It’s been a natural fit. It’s been like two pistons working together. Coach knows his kids better than I do and which plays will work better than I do. Coach Danko makes all the decisions, but it is such a familial environment it’s a great place to be. Oh, I’m juiced up.”
With a strong sophomore class, the Mustangs are positioned to be contenders for at least the next few years.
And that slow train coming? Huydic is now back to leaving blood on the tracks.