by Stan Heaps
January 22, 1982
Joe Sanfilippo Proud Of His Hard Work
Going further on the subject, "I never had a team work any harder than my last two at Jamestown. No matter what I asked of them, they did it. I think they wanted that championship more than I did. It's great to have kids like that."
With that final Section 6 crown, his 16th ("Sixteen but who counts," he like to joke.) in 29 seasons, Sanfilippo suddenly retired from his coaching position, shocking most of the fans, colleagues and critics who have followed his career.
"There was no special reason," he said of his decision. "There comes a time when you retire and I decided this was mine. I've been mulling it over for a couple years."
He said the players or teams either coming or going have never entered into his career decisions, "But it was sure nice to go out a winner."
Sanfilippo has had incredible success at three different schools since a year of learning in his initial season at Forestville High School.
"I don't remember a lot about that first team, except that we won three and lost two and I learned a lot about football I didn't know," he said.
During that first season at Forestville and the following year when Sanfilippo took a year off teaching, he must have learned a lot, because what followed turned into a real-life dream for the young coach. Sanfilippo turned a previously struggling Gallup, New Mexico team into a state champion in his first season in 1954.
Gallup had never even won a league title, but quickly hit the jackpot under Sanfilippo's reins.
Although even kidded by his assistants today as a conservative "three yards and a cloud of dust" coach, Sanfilippo actually won his first state title on what fans today would describe as a "flea-flicker."
"We were behind 7-6 with a minute to go against Fort Sumter in the championship game," he explained. "My halfback took the ball and pitched it back to the quarterback who passed for a touchdown."
"We won the game on a trick play," he grinned.
Sanfilippo said his Gallup teams threw the ball 20 to 25 times per game. "Well, I play to win and you can't depend on the pass with the kind of weather we have around here. In New Mexico it never rained in three seasons, so you didn't have to worry about changing your strategy if the weather was bad."
Gallup went on to the state finals again in 1955, finishing as the runner-up, and won the title again in 1956.
As a young coach with two state titles and one state runner-up in just fours years at the helm, Sanfilippo was showing the signs of something special. "I was just elated," he said. "But when something like that happens, I think you're happier for the kids and the people than for yourself. It meant so much to the community, especially for the people who had never won anything before."
Two of Sanfilippo's finest players at Gallup were three-year starter Rich Bach and fullback Frank Gonzales. "Bach started all three years. He could run the hundred in ten flat, broad jump twenty-three feet, and he was my best player on the basketball team as well. He was one of the top five players I ever coached."
Gonzales was Sanfilippo's fullback, and started as a freshman at New Mexico State University following high school.
Gallup was a middle-sized school about 60 miles from the Arizona border. "I sure wish I had the films of those teams," he said.
But after three years in the "Land of Enchantment," the former Jamestown High School offensive end and defensive tackle moved back to Western New York. "My wife, Rosalia and I are from Western New York, so we wanted to get back to this area," he said.
Salamanca, which also had never won a football championship of any kind, was Sanfilippo's next challenge.
After enduring a 1-6 season his first year, he turned the program into one of the best in the state and brought home 10 championship trophies in his 17 years.
"We were second in the state poll one season, but the years we had our best teams, they didn't have a poll," Sanfilippo said. "Our 1965 and 1971 teams could probably have played with this year's Jamestown team. They were both big teams with lots of speed."
From 1964 through 1967, Sanfilippo guided the Warriors to a 30-1-1 streak. The 1965 squad had only six points scored against its first-string defense all season.
Leading the way for Salamanca at quarterback from 1965 to 1967 was the lone Sanfilippo player to make it to the National Football League - Chuck Crist. Crist played defensive back in the NFL for the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers.
Other players who stood out during Sanfilippo's rein at Salamanca were the Nugent brothers - Mickey, Tom and Bob - and tackle Charlie Light.
Mickey Nugent, now a successful coach at Springville, quarterbacked Salamanca to its first championship in 1958. Tom Nugent, now an administrator at SUNY Brockport, was a halfback and Bob Nugent, also a back, now teaches at Salamanca.
Sanfilippo credits Light as the player who opened up Salamanca football players to the college ranks. "Charlie was a big tackle who played for Syracuse in the Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl," he said. "He opened up Salamanca for the colleges for a lot of years."
After 17 years at Salamanca, Sanfilippo came back to his alma mater in 1976 to build the program as it stands today. "I think it's normal for someone to want to come back to his hometown. But the only way I would leave Salamanca was to get something better and I knew the talent was here," he said.
The talent wasn't here in his first season as the Red Raiders struggled through a 1-8 campaign, but soon they were on their way.
"Dick Noonan (the previous Jamestown coach) helped me a lot when I came," Sanfilippo said. "Jamestown was winning four or five games a season, but they were always a kid or two away from having a big year."
"I've been blessed," he explained. "You've got to have the kids, and believe me, I've had them everywhere I've been."
"The last five years at Jamestown have been one continuous highlight," he added. "We've won something like 84% of our games, but the thing that really sticks out is the way these young men have represented Jamestown."
Asked if he could pick any Jamestown player he's coached for an all-star team, Sanfilippo asked, "How could you do it? There have been so many fine players."
"To start with, how could you pick between Ken Johnson and Sam Restivo at fullback? At quarterback, you've got Steve Currie, Randy Ordines and Randy Jordan. Who would you take? And at tailback, you've got Nate Davis and Roberto Amoroso. I'd just like to have them all back," he said.
He's had some strong lineman as well, and ranks current sophomore Mark D'Angelo among them. "Syracuse saw our films and they want him right now," he said. Other lineman Sanfilippo included were Barry Swanson, a co-captain at Edinboro last fall, end Tommy Jordan and Arkansas State's Tony Faison. Sanfilippo said Faison could be his second NFL player with the looks he got from a number of pro clubs last fall.
"I've also had some outstanding assistants, too," he added. "Wally Huckno and Ted Pasquale were here last season and I couldn't have done it without them. Coaches can't do it alone like I did when I first started."
Sanfilippo's eight seasons at Jamestown produced a 44-22-2 record, while he closed his career with a 170-60-7 mark.
"I've had so many highlights as a coach I couldn't pick out just one. I spoke at the National Football Clinic in Atlantic City and won Coach-of-the-Year twice, but that's just a couple," he said.
Asked if he ever emulated any other coaches, Sanfilippo quickly said, "Yes, my high school coaches Dent Moon and Al Ayers."
With his successor facing an unenviable challenge despite the loaded barrel of talent returning to JHS next fall, Sanfilippo's advice to his replacement would be "be yourself. You've got to do what you do best. Be yourself."
"There are a lot of good coaches around here. I don't think there is going to be any drop off in coaching," he said. Sanfilippo said he won't have any say in choosing his successor and doesn't know who it will be.
Portrayed correctly, it seems, as a hard-nosed coach from the "old-school", Sanfilippo was asked if he notices a difference in the players and coaches of today from when he started. "I don't see any in the kids, but I see a difference in the coaches." What difference? "I better not say," he said.
His final statement sounds like a politician more than a coach, but Sanfilippo insists he doesn't have any new jobs on the horizon, and would be happy to close out his career teaching at Jamestown High School.
"But that's not to say if a good offer came along I wouldn't consider..."