Dennis Scuderi's tenure as St. Augustine Prep football coach comes to a shocking and sudden end tonight.
The school's athletic administration announced Thursday afternoon that the Hermits and Scuderi had parted ways because of a "philosophical impasse." Scuderi said he was fired.
Scuderi will coach the Hermits (2-3) against Absegami (2-3) tonight. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. at St. Augustine. Scuderi's son, Dennis Jr., coaches Absegami.
"I'm in disbelief," Scuderi said. "We put St. Augustine back on the map football-wise. I think it's very unjust they didn't give us the opportunity to coach the rest of the season. It's unheard of for this to happen."
St. Augustine athletic director Tony Iaconelli will become the interim coach after tonight's game. The Hermits have at least four more games to play after tonight. Iaconelli said the school will immediately begin to search for a full-time coach.
"At this point, there is a philosophical impasse between coach and the school," Iaconelli said in a prepared statement Thursday. "It was a difficult decision for both Coach and me, but we believe it is time for new leadership and direction."
It is extremely rare for a high school to change football coaches in the middle of the season.
"We thought about what was the best way to provide stability for the program at this point," Iaconelli said in a phone interview Thursday. "The search for a new coach can start right now. I didn't think it was fair to Dennis to make him a lame duck."
Scuderi took over what was then a struggling Hermits program in 2006. St. Augustine was 37-19 in his five-plus seasons. St. Augustine finished a combined 19-2 in 2008-09 and won the Cape-Atlantic League National Conference both seasons. Scuderi was the 2008 Press Football Coach of the Year.
Iaconelli praised Scuderi for the memorable moments he provided at St. Augustine and for helping Hermits players earn college scholarships.
"He turned the program around," Iaconelli said. "He took us from being kind of an afterthought to being a respected program in South Jersey."
The Hermits finished 4-6 last season. Iaconelli stressed the decision was not about wins and losses. He said the school and Scuderi differed over the direction of the program. The sides especially differed over the Hermits' schedule and the admittance of prospective football players into the school.
Scuderi has said in the past he doesn't believe the Hermits should be in the Cape-Atlantic League American Division with the CAL's Group IV public schools.
"Those were things philosophically we just differed on," Iaconelli said. "We reached a point where I just didn't think it was resolvable."
Scuderi said Thursday the school wasn't committed to the football program. He declined to provide specifics but said he and the school had different opinions about where the program was headed.
"If you want to have a high-profile program, you need to make a commitment," Scuderi said. "You can't say you want to have something and then just have it."
Scuderi said the transfer this week of two sophomore starters to Holy Spirit escalated the situation. Scuderi said St. Augustine told him they couldn't have players transfer.
"I think they wanted me to resign," he said. "I said I wasn't going to resign. I'm not a quitter. I'm not going to quit on the kids."
Most of Scuderi's assistants also will leave after tonight's game.
Iaconelli said St. Augustine remains committed to building a winning football program. He noted the Hermits are successful in just about every sport they field.
"We are as committed to football now as we were last week, two weeks ago, three years ago," Iaconelli said. "We have every intention of trying to compete in football. We're successful in our other programs. We've been successful in the recent past in football. I don't see there's any reason why we can't be successful in the future."
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