Interview with New Rochelle football coach Louis DiRienzo
Terrance Jackson: Your teams have won two state championships (2003 and 2012), and they also have won the New York State Section 1 AA championship nine times since 2003, including five straight from 2006 to 2010. What does it take to run a successful football program?
Louis DiRienzo: Well, the first thing it takes is good football players. But secondly, I like to think there’s a lot of things that goes into running a successful football program. One of the things is… My tongue is still kind of swollen [Coach DiRienzo did this interview immediately after having a root canal]. One of the things is the continuity in coaching staff. My coaching staff has been together for a long time now.
The next thing that goes into it, is there’s a process. We just don’t show up in August and start playing football. In January, we start with the off-training season and off-season weight training program. Then that moves into our speed program. Then it moves into summer camps. It’s just a process that we as coaches believe in and the kids have brought into that process and they understand.
Our motto around here, or one of our mottos is, believe in the process, the outcomes will take care of itself. So I think it’s a kid’s willingness to believe in the process and grasp in it, has lead to a lot of our success. But at the end of the day, good football players make good football coaches a lot faster than good football coaches make good football players.
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Rough draft of New Ro Magazine.
TJ: Considering the enormous time commitment and low pay, why do you coach?
LD: Actually, not to sound nostalgic, but from being 10 years old, I kind of fell in love with everything about football. I was playing Pop Warner football and I just liked everything about it. I liked everything it did for me, the discipline, the camaraderie. There’s a lot of benefits of playing football. And from 10 years old, I really kind of knew what I wanted to do.
I tell people all the time that I never worked a day in my life. I just kept going to school. So it’s a passion for me and I get tremendous gratification out of it. When kids come back and tell you, “I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for you” or “I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for the program,” I don’t know how many other professions there are where you have that type of impact on people’e lives. Through the lessons of football, through teaching overcoming adversity, etc., etc., etc. You are teaching life lessons everyday. I don’t know if they are getting that done in the English classroom or the Math room. I get great gratification. You say low pay, I would do this for nothing, if I could.
TJ: New Rochelle suffered a tough lost last November against Saratoga Springs. Was there something to be learned from that lost?
LD: Games lost, teach the biggest lessons. In other words, for every game that I’ve lost, I have become a better football coach. Because you look in the mirror and you try to figure out why, and then you rectify those things. There are many, many lessons taught in every game. You could nitpick it, was it a play here, was it a lack of an adjustment there.
As far as the game itself, I thought the kids played to their ability. That’s what I judge. Did I get the kids to play to their ability? That’s all that you can do. I do believe that and when you lost 32-29. When you lose by a touchdown or less, there’s 90 million things: If I did this, if I didn’t do that, if I would of did this, and so on and so forth. Loses make you a better coach. Loses, there are things to be learned for sure.
TJ: You open at home against North Rockland on September 3rd. What are your thoughts on the game?
LD: That’s a long way off right now. The next thing is, we have a 7 on 7 out in Ramapo High School in New Jersey. Then we start our preseason camp. But North Rockland and New Rochelle has been a great rivalry though out the years. I’m sure it’s going to be that same type of game.
In week 1, no matter who the opponent is, there’s always the unknown. When you play someone week 4, all of their laundry is out on the clothesline. You know what they’re doing, they know what you’re doing. Now you just have go out and execute. In week 1, you’re not sure. Did they do this? Did they change that? So, it should be interesting.
Like I said, it has been a great rivalry. In AA, since 2000, there might only be two other section champions in AA. It’s been North Rockland and New Rochelle, I think except for White Plains and John Jay-East Fishkill. I think that might be a factual statement [Yes it is, White Plains was Section 1 AA champion in 2013 and John Jay-East-Fishkill was the champion in 2014].
TJ: What about the rest of the season?
LD: We want to get better. My feeling is that if we get better every single day that we practice or every single day that we live. If we take steps forward. I don’t look at the: “Are you going to playoffs?” “Are you going to win the section?” “Are you going to make…” I don’t know where we are going to go. I want to know that tomorrow we were better than what we were today. And if we do that then I think that we put ourselves in a position to share the successes that we have had in the past.
TJ: When do summer practices start?
LD: Football officially starts August 15th. We have a couple of camps that we’ll be attending. One at the last of June. One at the last week of July. And in between all of that, we have our summer fitness program which starts right after the 4th of July weekend.
TJ: Should parents be concerned about their children playing football?
LD: Should parents be concerned? I believe and obviously I’m biased… everybody talks about old school and the values of old school. I think that football is the last standing thing that still teaches old school values without lowering the bar.
Everything in education today is lower the bar so the kid can reach it. Don’t mark his question wrong in red pen cause you going to hurt his self-esteem. All this liberal non-sense that we deal with today in society. Football is the last thing, where you’re going to get knock down. It’s what you do after you get knocked down, but you going to lose. You’re not winning every game that you play. You’re not winning every individual battle that’s on the field.
In terms of the concussion issue, and it’s a big issue. The game has never been safer. All these disastrous things that they’re talking about, all these catastrophic things that have happened, happened to players that played in the NFL 30 or 40 years ago, 25 years ago. Where you played with a concussion and so they’re talking about this CTE [Chronic traumatic encephalopathy]. So right now the rules that are in the game and the amount of time that you have to sit once you get concussed. The game has never been safer.
My other message to parents is their children have a better chance of getting a concussion riding the bicycle that they brought them for Christmas than they do on a football field. You still going to let them ride a bike. The leading cause of death in kids 16-24 years old are automobile accidents, but they buy them a car when they’re 16.
This kind of seems like the cool debate, I not letting my son play football. I think they are making a tremendous mistake, cause like I said it the last standing bastion of what old school and real values that are being taught.
TJ: What precautions do you take to minimizes injuries to your athletes?
LD: We limit the amount of contact in practice. We have changed how we tackle. Pete Carroll has done a tremendous thing, it’s called hawk tackling. Basically, your head is out of the tackle, the way that tackling is being taught.
We make sure we give that we give proper rest and recuperation time in between practices and workouts. And we make sure that our players are hydrated. So we are taking all the safety precautions.
Unfortunately, there is no magic helmet that’s out there that can prevent any type of head trauma. To be very honest with you, paralysis in football bothers me much more than the concussion does. Cause once you get paralyzed, you stay paralyzed. If you get concussed, you have to go through the concussion protocol and you’re fine. Concussions aren’t cumulative, caused you got one today doesn’t you’re more likely to get one three weeks from now.
I think eliminating the wedge on kickoffs and so on and so forth has gone a long way in helping. The young lad from Rutgers [Eric LeGrand] that got paralyzed, I can’t think of his name off the top of my head. He was running down on the kickoff. So all those rules where there’s contact being made after running 30 or 40 yards, we need to make those rules better. The spearing, the targeting, all those rules that guy say is making football soft. It’s not making football soft. It’s being smart and protecting kids, and protecting the human beings that play it.
Football is safe as any other sport. Because people still box. There’s MMA. Soccer kids hit that ball traveling pretty fast with their head. In hockey, you’re getting checked into the boards. So, I don’t why the assault, sort to speak, on football. I think it caused the NFL has got more money than everybody else. I think that’s why this whole concussion thing is being pushed towards football.
TJ: What are the benefits of high school athletics in general and football in particular?
LD: I think there’s a work ethics being instilled. There’s learning how to deal with adversity, which I don’t know that today’s youth knows how to do that well. There’s the camaraderie of it. You don’t need to join a fraternity or sorority when you’re an athlete. You got it built in. You don’t need to join a gang on the street. You got your built-in gang. You have your identity.
It teaches perseverance, hard work like I said, dealing with adversity. And I don’t know that you get these types of values, I going to say, without being involved in an extra-curricular. I think there’s got to be more to a kids day than to 8 to 3 o’clock, I’ll go to school, then I’m going home. You got to to be involved in something. You have to be pursuing something.
TJ: Ray Rice said “My high school coach is the greatest man I’ve ever met in my life.” How does that make you feel?
LD: Obviously, that makes me feel great. It makes me beam with pride. Ray, you ask me what goes sports give you, it gives you a sense of loyalty. Ray’s a perfect example of this football program, once you’re in the family, you’re in the family forever.
He’s to me, more a role model now, today than he ever was. Cause what better example is there than Ray Rice to have made a mistake and do every single thing he possibly could have, that you suppose to do when you make a mistake to rectify it. So I think Ray has a stronger message now, today, than he ever had. I real glad that he’s around and mentoring and tutoring our kids. It’s a great deal to have Ray around as part of our group.
TJ: How did winning state championships compare to seeing Ray Rice win in the Super Bowl?
LD: There was a tremendous sense of pride, watching Ray play in the NFL and obviously to win a Super Bowl. As a team, though, as a football coach, winning the state championship, I’ll tell you the truth, getting to a state championship, we’ve been there five times and we’ve won twice. But to get to that level and it just like some of these with the Super Bowl. Same thing in high school.
At one point, actually Ray’s senior year, we lost the state championship, 41-35, to CBA Syracuse. There were nine Division 1 football players on the field at the same time. Never happened before, it hasn’t happened since. And as difficult as that lost was, there’s something to being able to appreciate being a part of that.
I’m real happy that Ray got to the Super Bowl and even happier that he put me up for the weekend in New Orleans. But, as a football coach, winning the state championship, which Ray was a part of, two of them, one win and one lost. Those take the cake.
Courtney Greene has played in the NFL. Andre Douglas has played up in Canada. Now we going to have Jordan Lucas playing for the Miami Dolphins. That’s great stuff.
TJ: What are your thoughts about Ray Rice playing in the NFL again?
LD: I don’t know, there’s way too much politics involved. I think it comes down to dollars. In other words, I think teams are afraid that they are going to lost sponsor dollars if they sign him.
I know Ray still has the goods, as far as being an athlete. If it wasn’t what I mentioned, it if was whether they’re not sure, well they’ll bring him in, try him out. And if he doesn’t have the goods, get rid out of him. But they’re not even bringing him in, cause whoever signs him, they’re afraid that there’ll going to be a big media swirl. Which there’ll probably will be and they are going to lose sponsor dollars.
But shame on them, cause their message is “We don’t care what you do, don’t get caught on video doing what you do.” In other words, the guy up in Minnesota that hit his kid in the nuts with the stick, well that wasn’t on video. America didn’t see that. I can’t think of this name, number 28 [TJ: Adrian Peterson], Adrian Peterson, so you go play football.
The guy Hardy threw his wife or whoever she was, on a bed full of guns, said “Which one do you want me to kill you with.”But that wasn’t on video. So there’s a little bit of hypocrisy with the NFL, in terms of, they’re trying to come off as, do they really care about domestic violence? Or do they care about their image cause America saw this?
I don’t know if Ray is ever going to play again. And I think it’s shame on them, if they are hiding for dollars. Let’s look at this, if I told Ray Rice when he was leaving New Rochelle High School. I said listen, you going to have a six-year NFL career, you going to be a three time Pro Bowl player, and you going to have a Super Bowl ring, and you going to sign a 40 million contract, whatever the hell his contract was. Will you sign on the dotted line right now? I think he would of. Ray Rice doesn’t need the NFL. I believe the NFL needs Ray Rice, but Ray Rice does not need the NFL. You can tell that I am passionate about Ray Rice.
TJ: What does it take for a high school player to make it to the NFL?
LD: The first, the second, and the third are God given ability. I tell people all the the time, I didn’t make Ray Rice a NFL football player. God made Ray Rice a NFL football player. Michael Jordan’s high school basketball coach did not make Michael Jordan the basketball player that he was, God did.
I think that other things though come into play. There’re other Ray Rices out there, that didn’t make. There’re are other Michael Jordans out there, that didn’t make it. God gave Ray the physical tools, the athletic ability to take it. But now you have to have the intestinal fortitude, you have to have the work ethic, you have to have the perseverance to take what God you and master that into an NFL or NBA career. But first and foremost like I said, first, second, and third on the list is God given ability.
TJ: What makes you more proud, Ray Rice winning a Super Bowl ring or Fred Campbell earning a Ph.D. at Rice University?
LD: You’re done your research. I am very proud of them both and I don’t think that one trumps the other. One of them was seen in front of the world, and the other is kept in secrets.
Fred Campbell is one of the most remarkable human beings that I have ever come across. His story, his mom dying his first year out at Stanford. The rituals they went through. She’s Eskimo. You want to talk about being a man, you want to talk about being macho. In the Eskimo tradition, the son or the male, the bottom line is that Fred dug his mother’s grave. That’s part of what they do.
You want to talk about being a man, Fred Campbell is a man. I told Fred when he went to Stanford, I said you are going to be millionaire someday, no matter what. Whether you play in the NFL or become a doctor or you pursue your academics. He just had it together like that. I am very proud of what Fred’s doing. It would of been interesting to see him final his football career, had he not crack that vertebrae in his neck.
TJ: Here’s a quote from a 2004 New York Times article:
A big game between fierce rivals in Westchester might draw a few thousand spectators at most, but several hundred is the norm. Meanwhile, average attendance at the Valdosta High School Wildcats’ games in football-crazed Valdosta, Ga., averages more than 7,000.
My father is actually from Valdosta, Georgia, what will it take to make football more popular in Westchester County?
LD: That’s a great question. We don’t need to look all the way to Valdosta, Georgia. We can just look in neighboring New Jersey. Why are there more Division 1 football players in New Jersey than there are New York? It’s the same area geographically. It’s the the same distractions with New York City with everyone saying big city living.
Well, it really has to come down to two thing, community support and school support. In other words, in New Jersey you’re getting bigger numbers at the high school game than you are in New York. And because it’s a lot more popular to play football in New Jersey because of the “props” you are going to get. It if that important in the community, well then more people want to be a part of it.
So I believe, if you compare New York football with Texas or Florida than you’re talking different climate, you’re talking different standards. New York and New Jersey were brothers, were partners. Well what’s the different between New Jersey football and New York football. I believe it’s administrative support within the school and I believe it’s community support. It’s a big deal in those town for football to take place.
Right up the hill, Greenwich High School in Greenwich, Connecticut. They have 200 kids in their program from the ninth grade up. We have about 120 in our program. Football must be real important in the Greenwich School District, in the town, or whatever they are, city of Greenwich. So I believe those are biggest difference.
In Valdosta it’s the same thing. Football is a way of life in Valdosta, Georgia. The town is shutting down. The biggest event happening is that Friday night football game. You want to be a part of that now.
TJ: New York State schools send relatively few football players to Division 1 FBS schools. Have you given this fact much thought? And obviously you have.
LD: To be a Division 1 football player, I feel the same as I do as being a NFL football players, you have to have some God-given ability. The first deal is that you have the that ability. I don’t know the reason other than what I said. The more important it is the community, in the school, the people that will play.
There is a rebirth of football in New York City, right now. There’re some up and coming Division 1 football players at Cardinal Hayes in the Bronx. There’s a couple of Division 1 football players at Erasmus, at Lincoln in Brooklyn, at Tottenville out in Staten Island, at Fordham Prep.
Is football more important in the City, than it is here? From a community point, from a participation point of view. Or is it a more social-economic thing, where kids trying to get out, are more hungry to play football? I don’t know.
TJ: Coach, thank you for your time, any final thoughts.
D: No, I appreciate you coming in and hopefully I’ve added a little something to this new magazine.