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A look at high school football throughout the state

Monday, July 13, 2009

Top 10: Coaches

The second installment in the Top 10 football topics is all about coaches. Here is our list. Tell us what you think. Feel free to leave a comment below. Records were taken from the Connecticut High School Football Record Book (2008 edition).

1. Ed McCarthy, West Haven
The veteran McCarthy has won 288 games since 1971. McCarthy led St. Joseph to three-straight state championships (1980-1982), and five-straight title game appearances. Before stepping down, McCarthy was influential in building what would become, arguably, the most dominant program during the 1980s. St. Joseph won seven state titles that decade, matched only by Ansonia.

At West Haven, McCarthy’s teams won state championships in 1986, 1987, 1989 and 2002.
Despite a 6-4 record last year, and a 3-7 mark in 2007, McCarthy remains one of the most passionate, respected and animated coaches the state’s ever seen.

2. Lou Marinelli, New Canaan
Marinelli, who previously coached at two New York high schools and as an assistant at Boston College, has a record of 222-81-6 at New Canaan since taking over the program in 1981.

During his tenure, the Rams have won seven state championships, including the last three in Class MM. Last year’s edition went 13-0 and finished as the No. 1 team in the final Register Poll.

Marinelli is one of the most personable, intelligent and classiest coaches around, and has continued New Canaan’s long history of success on the gridiron.

3. Steve Filippone, Hand
There have only been two head coaches at Hand since the program’s inception in 1971. Legendary coach Larry Ciotti almost single-handily built the program from scratch, and won four titles before stepping down in 1988.

A year later, Filippone took over and continued the tradition that Ciotti started.
Filippone has since surpassed Ciotti in career wins and state championships. Filippone enters this season with 160 victories, and won his fifth state title in 2005.

Filippone is also active off the field. He is the co-chairperson of the football committee for the Connecticut High School Coaches Association.

4. Marce Petroccio, Staples
Prior to Petroccio coming to Staples in 1993, the Wreckers never qualified for the state playoffs.
Since then, Staples has advanced to a state final six times and won titles in 2002, 2004 and 2005.

Petroccio has a record of 133-48 at the school, and won the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference title in 1997 and 2003. He is the career wins leader in school history, and has established the Wreckers as a genuine state power.

5. John Murphy, Masuk
Murphy has been heavily successful in adopting the spread offense, which has become the offense of choice for several teams in recent years.

In just his second season in 1998, Murphy, and the Panthers upset favored Fitch to win the Class L title. Four more state final appearances followed in 2000, 2003, 2005 and 2007.

Last season, Masuk captured Class L again with a 56-13 victory over Newington. The Panthers have won the South-West Conference championship in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2003 under Murphy, who has won 115 games.

6. Rich Albonizio, Greenwich
Albonizio enters this season with a 123-19-1 record with the Cardinals, including Class LL state titles in 1999, 2006 and 2007. Albonizio also won a state championship at Trinity Catholic in 1993.

Albonizio, who also coached at Port Chester, N.Y., where he played in the late 1960s. He still teaches in that city’s school system. Albonizio, who has 222 career victories, has maintained Greenwich’s standing as one of the top programs, not only in the FCIAC, but on the state level as well.

7. Mike Emery, Fitch
Emery is known for his double-wing offense, which made the Falcons one of the most productive teams in the late 1990s.

In 1999, Emery led Fitch to the Class L state title. That year, Emery was named the Register All-State coach of the year. The Falcons repeated in 2000, and the team advanced to the state final in 2001, before losing to Notre Dame-West Haven.

Emery, who also coached at Montville, and has recorded 169 career wins, stepped down as Fitch’s coach in 2002. However, he returned to the sidelines last season. Despite going just 2-9, it likely won’t be long before Emery has the Falcons competing for state titles again.

8. John Acquavita, Wilbur Cross
Acquavita started the Hyde program in 1998, and it wasn’t long before the Howling Wolves established themselves as one of the best small schools in the state.

Hyde won its first state title in 2000. Acquavita also won titles in 2004 and 2005, as Hyde became the signature program of the Pequot Conference.

In 2006, Acquavita left to accept the job at Wilbur Cross, his alma-mater. The Governors went 6-5 last season while playing a competitive Southern Connecticut Conference Division I schedule. But with Acquavita at the helm, using a combination of brains and a nurturing spirit that was instrumental in Hyde’s success, the Wilbur Cross program appears headed in the right direction.

9. Tom Brockett, Ansonia
In just his third season, Brockett is, arguably, the state’s best young coach. He’s taken powerhouse Ansonia to the state playoffs every season he’s been head coach, and won Class S titles in 2006 and 2007. Last season, the Chargers fell to Cromwell in the final.

What’s more impressive is that Brockett, a Wallingford native, has been able to survive the critics in this football-crazy town. The last non-homegrown talent to head Ansonia was Doug Morrell in 1986. He went 5-6 that year and wasn’t invited back the next season.

Brockett will likely have his toughest challenge this season. Gone is the team’s starting quarterback (Ron Bilodeau), an all-state running back (Tristan Roberts) and an all-state lineman (Tommy Hyde). But expect the winning tradition to continue because of Brockett’s passion and tenacious attitude for success.

10. Scott Benoit, Hamden
Benoit is the only one on this list to have never won a state championship. But Benoit is, without question, one of the most committed and knowledge able coaches in the state.

Hamden is the third headcoaching position for Benoit, who played at West Haven.
He piloted North Branford for five years. His record there was 38-16, including two conference titles and a Class S state championship game appearance in 2001.

Benoit then spent three seasons at Guilford, a team that won just five games in the previous four seasons before Benoit’s arrival. He matched that win total in his first year with the Indians.
In the fall, Hamden may return the most talent of any team in the state. Benoit may finally earn the state title that’s eluded him.

(*) The list only includes active coaches. Former New London coach Jack Cochran, who owns eight state titles, would've been included in this list. However, Cochran was fired in April. Cochran is appealing the decision made by school officials.

Honorable Mention
Mark Ecke, Cheshire: Led the Rams to two state titles, and was coach when Cheshire set the state mark for consecutive victories (49) in 1996. Cheshire lost in the 2008 Class LL final.

Jude Kelly, St. Paul/Goodwin Tech/Lewis Mills: Has won 197 games, which also includes stints with Southington and East Catholic. The co-op team moves to the Naugatuck Valley League this year.

Bob Zito, Maloney: Has coached at four schools, including guiding Newtown to two state championships.

Craig Bruno, Bunnell: Like Masuk's Murphy, Bruno has excelled using the spread offense. Won state titles in 2006 and 2007.

Rich Angarano, Brookfield: Led Bobcats to Class M state title last season.

Bill Mella, Southington: Still seeking first state title, but has Blue Knights in contention seemingly every year.

Bob Maffei, Trumbull: His teams hold their own in rugged FCIAC.

Jim Buonocore, Jr., Ledyard: Father put New London football on the map. Junior is keeping tradition alive at Ledyard.

Rob Fleeting, Windsor: Fleeting begins his first season at Windsor this fall. He previously led Weaver to five playoff appearances in 10 seasons. The 1999 edition won the Class M state title.

Sal Morello, Cromwell: Another young coach that has won 61 games since starting the program in 2002. Guided Panthers to first state title last season.

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