Q: How did you get the job that no one wants — president of the Cape-Atlantic League?
A: It’s one of those jobs where people say, “If anybody’s interested, step forward” and everybody steps back. It’s not the most popular position, but at the same time I appreciate the fact that people in the league trust me and trust our entire set of officers that we’re trying to do the right thing. Since 2004, I’ve been involved in the league as an officer. It’s been a tremendous learning opportunity.
Q: How did you make the transition from coaching in college to athletic director?
A: Everywhere I coached in college I was a part-time coach, but I was full time in administration. I was admissions director at Elizabethtown College. I always made sure I was working on my education supervisory certificate. When the athletic director position came up at Hammonton, it was out of nowhere. I wasn’t even looking for a job. I was the assistant men’s basketball coach at the University at Albany. But my family was very far from home. We had moved three times in two years. A good friend of mine, Bobby Previti, let me know the Hammonton job was open. I was down here on vacation. I borrowed a pair of pants, shirt and shoes. I didn’t even have socks on. I went to this interview as a favor to Bobby. A 30-minute interview turned out to be a four-hour conversation. I thought it was a special opportunity to get my family back to the area.
Q: (Now that you’re at Mainland), what is it like being the athletic director in a school you attended?
A: It’s still a little surreal. This was the only job I would have been interested in besides Hammonton. I’ve never ever lived this close to work in my life. My whole life has been in a car. It’s been terrific.
Q: How has the athletic director’s job changed since you started in 2001?
A: I think it’s a critical job in the school district. You’re dealing with so many different aspects of kids. I’m dealing with discipline, the positive things and sports. There’s a misconception of what this job entails. I’m here at 7:30 or 8 in the morning, and I’m here until 6:30 at night. The idea of the former football coach with a cigar with his feet up on a golf cart watching games is wrong.
Q: How important is sports to a school?
A: Sports should be coupled with extracurricular activities. You can be terrific in the classroom, and that’s awesome. That’s the ultimate goal. But if you’re going from the classroom to the library to back home after school, you’re not taking advantage, and I think you’re missing what high school is about.
Q: What do you look for in a high school coach?
A: I keep it real simple. I ask every coach to do three things — teach fundamentals, hold the kids to high expectations on and off the field, and treat the kids appropriately. If we do those three things, we’re going to be successful. I’ll tell parents I talk to them about anything but playing time or coaching style.
Q: How important is winning?
A: You can’t talk about winning until you’re competing every day. Every school can lay their hat on certain sports. I’m greedy. I want every sport to be competitive. But you can’t talk about winning until you’re competing every day in practice and every game. I think the scoreboard will take care of itself as long as you’re competing every day.
Q: The CAL realigned for football for 2014-15 based on enrollment and power points. The process seemed to go smoothly. Did it?
A: There’s only so many ways you can skin a cat. We opened up our dialogue to all the football coaches. I think that was so critical for the coaches to not only feel like they’re part of the process but understand how difficult that process is. Our football committee did a good job. It’s like trying to cook soup for 1,000 people. If 990 people love it and 10 don’t, unfortunately that’s part of the process. You can either love it, like it or live with it. In some cases, people have to live with it. It’s extremely tough to put apples with apples in the CAL (because of the different enrollments of schools). We have public to non-public from Group V down to Group II.
Q: New Jersey high schools will vote in December to change the constitution of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association to allow statewide football playoffs for public schools. What is your opinion on the proposal?
A: Right now I think the change will get shot down. People are concerned about where we’re going with this. There are still a lot of questions. My concern right now is that fall coaches have such an advantage over winter coaches. To cater even more to the fall — believe me I love football. It’s my favorite sport. But the fall coach can have his kids in June (and train them right into the season). Your state championship will be the second weekend of December. But when is a wrestling kid (that plays in a state championship) looking at hydration testing? We’re only talking about a minority amount of schools. We have to have something to balance those scales between (fall and winter sports). If we’re serious about a state championship, we also have to be serious about heat acclimatization for football players. You have to look at the number of scrimmages. If we’re going to name a state champion, we have to make sure we’re doing everything the proper way.
Q: If the change were passed, the football season would start before Labor Day some years. What is your opinion of that?
A: People have voiced that concern. But as an administrator the biggest concern with that are personnel (to work games). Let’s be honest, we all scrimmage over Labor Day weekend. That (Labor Day) is something that would affect schools in the south more than the north. It’s come up in conversation and may sway someone’s vote.
Q: What do you think of the new NJSIAA rule that ejects players from games for using bias language?
A: I think it was needed. We’re read sportsmanship statements before games, but it has a little more teeth when it comes from the NJSIAA. It coming from the top really helps us as athletic administrators.
Q: What sort of impact do you see choice schools having on athletic programs?
A: There’s a variety of choice programs. Here at Mainland we have 35 or 40 spots, and we had 160 kids apply. Do we have a variety of athletes (apply)? I’m sure we did. But it’s all ping-pong balls in the basket, and you pull out who’s who. I don’t have any say. It’s truly by lottery.
Q: Is there concern in the CAL about choice schools?
A: When I first got to Hammonton, I opened up a drawer and there was a letter from 1972 from a priest at Holy Spirit talking about the balance of competition between public and non-public schools. This is nothing new. Now you have to bring into discussion choice and magnet schools. It affects everybody a little differently. But the arguments we have had in the past about even playing fields (between public and non-public) are getting less and less because choice can almost be looked at as an advantage.
Q: The CAL applied to join the West Jersey Football League (which consist of teams from South Jersey and Mercer County) last year but was rejected. What effect did that have on the CAL?
A: We had to apply to the West Jersey. We have to do what’s in the best interest of the league. It’s no secret. It came down to a couple of schools and in particular St. Joe. There’s no place to place those guys. That’s a tribute to St. Joe coach Paul Sacco and their kids. Not one of those schools that was the same size or one size ahead of St. Joe wanted to play them. That’s what it came down to. Once we got the no from the West Jersey, people said we exhausted every opportunity. No you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. But we didn’t close the door. I will revisit (applying to the West Jersey) with our league officers next year. Athletic directors change. Philosophies change. People change. But that is something we will decide as a group.
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