When the FCIAC football coaches meet together in two weeks for the first time, it was suggested committee chairman Doug Marchetti come equipped with nametags.
They may be necessary.
In an unprecedented amount of turnover, conditioning week started yesterday with seven of the 17 schools being led by new coaches. One, Marce Petroccio, is a known commodity, making the move from Staples to Trumbull, his alma mater. A few, like Brien McMahon (Jeff Queiroga), Wilton (E.J. DiNunzio) and Westhill (Joey DeVellis), elevated assistants already on staff. Derrick Lewis, formerly at Bassick, is back in the league after taking over at Bridgeport Central. And Danbury and Staples went over the border into New York to get their new leaders.
Except for Petroccio, the reasons for the other six openings were listed as resignations, which has become a blanket term for a variety of circumstances why a coach is leaving.
No matter, the “help wanted” sign was in a perpetual state this offseason.
“It’s incredible but that’s the tone of what’s happening in our times right now,” Petroccio said. “A lot of people are leaving for a lot of different reasons. It is what it is.”
By the new standards, Mitch Ross, the former Darien offensive coordinator who took over last year at Fairfield Ludlowe, almost has senior status. A seasoned fraternity now seems like it just finished rush week.
“It’s different than what it used to be,” said New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli, the elder statesmen of the group heading into his 38th season. “The old guys stayed in their jobs for a long, long time. I am one of those guys where you have a good situation and great kids and you stay in those situations. Every school has different circumstances. You have to find the right guy to fit those circumstances to be successful.”
The athletic directors who made the hires would be happy to have a coach with half the staying power of Marinelli in this era when distractions and increased responsibilities are part of the working environment. Three of the schools that hired new coaches had winning records last season.
Two of the coaches who stepped down have found landing spots: AJ Albano made the move from McMahon to a defensive assistant at New Canaan. Bruce Cunningham followed that path, going from Wilton to Greenwich.
The two new coaches with no former FCIAC ties find themselves in different situations. Augustine Tieri, who has replaced Alex Trasacco in Danbury, was hired in March from Kennedy High School in the Bronx. He has been getting up to speed not just with a new school but a different league.
“Coming up here you definitely had to get a vibe for what the culture is and get a feel for you kids and how they operate and how they are motivated and how to coach each one individually,” Tieri said. “That’s certainly the first part of taking over a new program. But just familiarizing myself with the FCIAC, with the intricacies and nuances of the rules, watching different teams on film right away to get an idea what the different programs run offensively and defensively. Understanding a little bit more about the history of this league. What the stronger teams have done and learning how they established themselves running their programs top to bottom, from the youth level on up.”
Tieri said a major transition means putting in long hours.
“There’s definitely been a lot of learning over the last four months,” Tieri said. “Trying to get accustomed and acclimated to this new football culture. But it is something I’ve definitely embraced and learned a lot from along the way.”
In contrast, Staples took the longest time of the seven schools with its search to replace Petroccio. It hired Phil Treglia in early June (part of the delay was working out details since Treglia was the Wreckers’ top candidate).
Formerly an assistant at Archbishop Stepinac in Westchester, Treglia has been in need of a rally cap to put together a staff and learn more about his personnel.
“Our main focus is the kids we have in the program and building our foundation,” Treglia said. “We’re just looking at our first opponent, Bridgeport Central, and our own team and what we can handle. From afar obviously there are some traditional great programs in the FCIAC with great coaches. But that’s from afar. Right now we are just focused on what we can do to get better every day.”
The new assistants have spent long nights watching film. Because this year’s league schedule is the same as last season’s, with just the home and visiting teams changing, it has somewhat helped with the learning curve.
“It’s nice to go over the game tape from last year and be able to analyze and see how teams played us in the past,” Treglia said.
The Wreckers’ first two games are against teams with new coaches. After opening with Central they face Wilton.
“We watched the films from the last couple of years and with the changes in coaches,” Treglia said. “In the beginning we have teams with new coaches so we really can’t start game-planning specific until we see them in scrimmages.”
The new coaches are hoping unfamiliarity will give them a slight early advantage.
Asked about his philosophy, Tieri said, “You try to keep that under wraps for as long as you can.”
The veteran coaches in the league did not achieve their success without putting in their own homework.
“Does it make it more difficult to prepare? Absolutely,” Petroccio said. “You don’t really get a lot of tendencies, you don’t really know them that well, you don’t know what they like to do or how they like to do it. It makes it a little more difficult. But in the end the better coaches will concentrate on what they do to make themselves better and concentrate with what they’ve got.”
Marinelli said the landscape has changed from when he was one of the young coaches going against Hall of Famers like Jerry McDougall, Mike Ornato and Tom Fujitani.
“It was different. As much as you wanted to beat each other, we were friendly,” Marinelli said. “We used to have socials with the wives and everything else. As much as you wanted to beat each other there was a camaraderie there. And I think still to some degree there is but not the same.”
The FCIAC football coaching club has by and large been close and Petroccio said that is unlikely to change.
“The guys who have been around a long time are still going to be friendly with each other and be competitive of course,” Petroccio said. “The new guys, we will welcome them with open arms. If they need any help we are there for them. In the end you have to concentrate on your own team.”
Which is why this week, everyone from Marinelli to Treglia share an important common bond.
Said Petroccio, “I’m sure everyone is anxious to start the season and lets get going now.”