by Gib Snyder III
Is There Any End In Sight? Fredonia’s Gullo Keeps Finding Ways To Win
“It’s been a dream come true,” Gullo said. “I’ve been very fortunate – with the exception of my years away at college (Brockport) – to live in my home town. I’m very proud of this area and I love representing our school and our community.”
Although he’s coached other sports at his alma mater, the one job he really wanted was to be the varsity baseball coach.
“I was speechless,” Gullo said of his reaction to getting the job. “The principal at the time was Michael Moore, son of the legendary Roger K. Moore, and I just think that’s very cool that he recommended me for the job.”
In his 15 seasons, the Hillbillies have gone 272-99, including zero losing seasons and a 125-43 mark in league play and a 50-13 record in the playoffs. His teams have won 7 league titles, have a 9-0 record when playing for a Section 6 Class B1 or B2 title, have won seven overall Class B titles, five New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class B Far West Regionals and two NYSPHSAA Class B state titles in (2006, 2013). Gullo has also coached two Class B Players of the Year in Abe Rak (2006) and Nick Hart (2013), as well as seven All-Western New York Players.
“First and foremost, we’ve had a great feeder program all these years, and it starts there,” Gullo said. “And then with my assistant coaches – my coaching staff is the best around – I owe them a ton of gratitude, because we’re all working toward the same goal, which is to win titles.
“Not really,” assistant coach Jake McCune added when asked if he was surprised at the success Gullo has been able to have. “I think he’s had pretty good talent to work with and he keeps them focused. So no, I’m not surprised”.
Gullo’s teams have also finished second at the state Final Four twice, the first time in 2005 and again this season when the Hillbillies’ seventh-inning rally came up just a run short to Section IX’s Marlboro.
“I think that his greatest strength is that he knows how to motivate each player individually,” former Fredonia player and assistant coach Brian Bongiovanni said when asked what he thought was the main thing that made Gullo as successful a coach as he has been.
“I think he does a really good job of getting the best out of each player and he knows the type of baseball he wants his teams to play.”
Tim Cowan, who was formerly the head baseball coach at Chautauqua Lake, before joining Gullo’s staff in 2013, mentioned that it may be something else that makes Gullo the coach that he is.
I think the biggest thing, at least in my short tenure, is his willingness to share,” Cowan said. “He could probably have a very successful program running it by himself. The talent is here, but he has allowed other people, myself included, to come in with different ideas and he’s been willing to adopt things and never settles for the status quo. If you asked him, the team is run much more different than it was run in 2005.”
“It’s been a lot of fun,” former Brocton head coach Terry Presto, who joined Gullo’s staff in 2015, added. “He empowers all of the coaches and he’s very thorough. He works on defense and pitching and has very regimented practices. There’s a reason he’s been so successful and it’s because he works hard and is a student of the game.”
And Gullo learned from one of the area’s best coaches in Pete Criscione, who he played for during his own high school career in the mid 80’s. He also learned a lot from former boys varsity soccer coach Dave Giambrone.
“I try to make them proud,” Gullo said of his former coaches. “I also study coaches, including all the local coaches, of which there are many great ones out there. I just try to learn from everyone.”
Gullo will be the first to tell you that he has not been able to build the Hillbillies into the most successful baseball programs – regardless of classification – in Western New York all by himself.
“I’m very fortunate to have had talented, dedicated and hard-working players that buy into what we’re trying to achieve,” Gullo said. “In high school sports, you have to adjust to the type of talent you have. I’ve had great defensive teams and teams with great pitching, so we work with what we have and we have to change from year to year.”
This season was no different as the Hillbillies, by most every measure, over achieved by making it all the way to Binghamton and the state championship game. And Gullo, as well as the rest of his coaching staff, which includes Charlie LaDuca, Phil Schrader, Jim Rush, Presto, Cowan and McCune, will be the first to agree with that sentiment. But that is just one more testament to how talented Gullo, as well as the rest of his coaching staff, are as baseball coaches, as well as coaches of young men.
“I think this year, and Tim Smith from Gowanda relayed this to him, this was his best coaching effort ever,” LaDuca, who spent 23 seasons as the head coach at Pine Valley said. “The truth is, the talent level from 2013 has kind of just gone a little bit downhill, which is the natural trend of things. It will cycle back through, but for us to get back to that state Final Four was a total coaching effort, because everybody did their thing. As far as talent goes, and without saying anything bad about our team this year, the 2013 team was much more talented in many ways. Yet, as a coaching staff, we absolutely got the most out of these kids as we could.”
With the success he’s had over the past 15 seasons, you would think it would be hard for Gullo to pick out just one lasting memory. But when asked which memory he’ll remember most, he did not hesitate to mention Bongiovanni’s walk-off single in the 2005 state semifinals against Babylon.
“That’s still my greatest coaching moment,” Gullo said. “There have been a ton more great moments, but they’re all in second place.”
That could change, however, and as long as his assistants stick around, Gullo has no problem steering the ship while digesting all the great moments his teams have provided him since 2002.
“I’m going to go as long as my assistant coaches stick with me,” Gullo said, before taking one last time to thank all of his assistants, which is a list that also includes Jesse Beers, Greg Betts, Joe Pucciarelli, Ryan Sikorski, Robert Brown, Roy Farnham, Greg Smith, Chuck Alessi, Brent Thompson, Lane Wolfe, Sal Flores, Jarod Winder and Anthony Polvino. “I can’t ever see coaching solo, or with just one assistant again. With Charlie and Terry and Tim and Jake, and all the guys before them, what they bring to our program is irreplaceable. As long as I have these dedicated co-coaches, I’ll go forever.”