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Connolly out at EHS… again

Brendan to be head coach, Brian out

By TODD SLISS
SCARSDALE INQUIRER/JIM MACLEAN

Brendan and Brian Connolly coached together the last three years. They had hoped to coach together again this coming fall.

 

Twice Brian Connolly took over an ailing football program at Edgemont. And twice he was fired.

Connolly, who was Edgemont’s head coach from 1988-2009 and 2015-17, was informed earlier this month he will not return to the Panthers coaching staff in the fall.

He won New York State Class C championships with the team for three years from 1998 to 2000 and made the state semifinals in 2001.

Since his initial hire at Edgemont, Connolly has been a high school physical education teacher.

Connolly was, without reason given to the public, fired the summer prior to the 2010 season. Matt Bernstein, a 2001 grad and then-assistant coach, filled the vacancy on short notice. After Bernstein quit in December 2014 and after two promising coaching candidates fell through as the summer approached, then-athletic director Ray Pappalardi, who was about to embark on a new journey at Scarsdale, suggested Connolly return to replace Bernstein.

With a depleted coaching staff, Connolly was permitted to bring his recent college graduate son, Brendan, a 2011 Edgemont grad, on board as an assistant for 2015. For the 2016 season, Brendan was elevated to first assistant coach and last season the two considered themselves co-coaches as Brian prepared his son to take over.

This was part of a three-year plan of which athletic director Anthony DeRosa approved. At the end of the 2017 season last fall, Brian announced Brendan would be taking over and he would return as an assistant coach.

That was all going to plan until recently.

“All I can say at this point is in December I stepped down as the head coach,” Brian Connolly said. “I was grooming Brendan to be the head coach. Any other questions about that have to go to the A.D. or the superintendent.”

When asked to confirm Connolly was not being recommended to return Wednesday, DeRosa said, “Yeah. I, unfortunately, can’t comment on personnel decisions at the district level. It was made like a week and a half, two weeks ago. It was a district-level decision.”

DeRosa confirmed the plan for Brian and Brendan to switch roles, but again confirmed the elder Connolly was no longer part of those plans, but, he said, “This doesn’t affect Brendan’s standing or status with the program at all.”

As of press time Thursday evening, superintendent Dr. Victoria Kniewel, who approved of Brian’s rehire as coach in 2015, did not return multiple requests for comment.

Is there still any chance of Brian rejoining the staff? “I would probably say not likely,” he said.

Brian is keeping mum on the situation as he did the first time around and seems willing to fade away in order to make sure everything goes smoothly for his son. Brian called it a “clean slate” for Brendan.

DeRosa has not made any of the one-year coaching appointment recommendations for the fall yet — he said he expects to do that some time next month — so Brendan’s appointment as head coach is not official.

“I am planning on putting Brendan forth, but obviously I make the recommendation to the superintendent and the superintendent puts it to the board, which approves the recommendation,” DeRosa said.

Life of Brian

In 1988, Brian was warned not to come to Edgemont, that the football program could never thrive. Though it took time, he rebuilt Edgemont with players like Adam Scheier leading the way first into a league champ, then a section champ, then a three-time state champ behind NYS Players of the Year Peter Koh, Drew Nadler and Bernstein. The team even made the state semifinals the next year, falling one forward progress call short of making the finals. A move to Class B in 2002 made it harder for the often short-handed team to compete, but Edgemont had strong years in waves behind players like Ben Bernstein, Josh Dubin, the Einhorn twins and most recently Frankie Sayegh.

In late June of 2010, Pappalardi was told Brian would not be reappointed. Brian said at the time then-superintendent Nancy Taddiken informed him of the decision. None of the three would discuss the reason publicly. Brian was also relieved of his duties as assistant athletic director for the winter and spring seasons. It was several years before he was even allowed to run a scoreboard at an Edgemont game.

Brian had formerly coached baseball, including to the Section 1 title in 1999, his last year at the helm. He later coached boys golf.

At the time, Pappalardi called Bernstein his “first choice” to succeed Brian. Bernstein had been an assistant for two seasons. Taking over for Brian under those circumstances was bittersweet for Bernstein, but he didn’t want to let Edgemont down, so he accepted.

Brian left his assistant position at Hackley, which he had been hired to by former Edgemont A.D. Jason Edwards, in order to return as a coach at Edgemont.

Brian liked being an assistant and hadn’t been pursuing head jobs, but at the time he noted, “The situation here is a little critical not having an A.D., no assistant A.D. and no football coach and it’s June.” (Then-assistant A.D. D.J. Goldman accepted the A.D. spot at Blind Brook prior to Pappalardi announcing he’d be going to Scarsdale.)

Not surprisingly, Edgemont, coming off a 2-6 season in Bernstein’s final year, struggled with another 2-6 record Brian’s first year back with no offseason training program, but he built around quarterback Sayegh the past two seasons and the team was 9-6 overall and qualified for sectionals. Connolly credited Brendan for developing Sayegh, leading the offense and helping Edgemont regain some semblance of respect around the section.

“I’ve seen it go full circle,” Brian said. “When I started here it was nothing and then we won the state titles. The last few years we had a resurgence in the program. We had a good group of seniors last year 10 or 12 that bought into the program.”

In addition to the dominant years, Brian will always remember the large number of players who went on to play in college.

“Nowadays they don’t, but a lot of kids used football to get into schools they probably wouldn't have,” he said. “We had a bunch of kids go Ivy League, a bunch NESCAC. Matt [Bernstein] woulda went anywhere because he was Matt.” (He played at Wisconsin and if it weren’t for some late career injuries might have had a solid professional career.)

Brian has also mentored a lot of young assistant coaches who went on to become head coaches, most notably Jimmy Clark at John Jay-Cross River, and he has twice groomed his replacement.

“It makes you feel like people are motivated and listen to what you have to say,” Brian said. “I must be doing something right where these assistant coaches of mine want to become head coaches.”

Brendan on deck

If all goes as planned, 25-year-old Brendan will be the head coach with Hector Negron, Bill Magner and Larry Giustiniani slated to return as assistant coaches, according to DeRosa.

“I was impressed with Brendan and his knowledge of football,” DeRosa said. “I’ve known Brendan since my first year here, which was his senior year when I was coaching with Bernstein… He was a good kid in high school, but to see his growth and maturity and his knowledge of football was always there, I was very impressed with him and as a very solid young man and young coach. I was very comfortable with Brendan eventually taking over the reigns from Brian.”

Brendan has seen a fair amount of Edgemont’s history. He remembers a couple of regular season games from 1998 and going to the Carrier Dome for the finals that year when he was 6 years old. He was at practices and on the sidelines with his dad since he can remember. The runt shot up in high school and became a fierce receiver and quarterback for the Panthers before heading to Muhlenberg as a receiver.

“I remember going to the Dome and just being in awe of it,” Brendan said. “That’s something you’ll never get to experience unless you play in it. That was always the goal.”

Now a physical education teacher at Clark Academy, Brendan has been soaking up his father’s football coaching prowess and adding his own flare to it.

“He’s such a vast resource of knowledge after coaching for 30 years and he’s so accomplished on so many levels,” Brendan said. “With us it hasn’t been father/son, but coach/assistant coach and how do we make the team better? How do we break down films? How do we create game plans? It’s all the nuances that go on behind the scenes that players don’t get to see, parents don’t get to see. All of that work that is put in in the offseason, on Sundays and Saturdays, spending those countless hours to make those subtle tweaks to a team that could be the difference between winning and losing.”

Not being able to coach with his dad anymore is disappointing to Brendan, but he’s not making any waves.

“I never really questioned it,” Brendan said. “He said it probably wasn’t going to happen… We’re losing a great assistant coach, but it is what it is. That’s life. I’m sure we'll bring in someone that’s going to do a good job and we’ll move forward and we’re pretty hopeful about our team next year.”

The young protégé has got enough on his plate with off-season weight room, speed clinics and trying to rebuild the team’s participation numbers.

“There’s less and less people who are letting their kids play football and committing to it,” Brian said. “It’s the one sport where you’re practicing five days a week and you’re playing once. It’s hard to get the kids to commit and buy into the program.

“The kids really like him. That’s why it’s going to be a seamless transition for him.”

The Panthers will rely on Anthony Langiulli and Matt Sayegh, who will be second-year captains as seniors, to help take to the team into a new era.

“We have a great group of kids coming up that have been doing a great job of learning, been in the weight room and skill building,” Brendan said. “They are putting in the time and effort, doing the work that’s necessary to become a special football team.”

Brendan has already displayed his all-in commitment to the football program at Edgemont.

“I love that as an athletic director for a coach to be that committed,” DeRosa said. “The program is in a good place with him.”

Another change

Edgemont will again have a handful of players from Keio rejoin the team in the fall.

“Those kids bonded with our kids very well,” DeRosa said. “We would have been disappointed if we couldn’t continue the relationship, but we’re glad to be able to merge with them again.”

The big change is that the Panthers have gone independent from Section 1 for football along with Briarcliff, Hastings, Croton, Rye Neck, Blind Brook and Irvington. Pawling pulled out of the league in favor of playing 8-vs.-8 football with Section 9.

“We all have similar needs,” DeRosa said. “We’re trying to, for lack of a better word, ‘save’ football because we’re all struggling with numbers, we’re all small schools. We’re not football schools so to speak, so we think it’s in the best interest of our program. We just can’t compete with the other schools that have J.V. programs and strong programs across the board. It’s the same four or five schools in the mix every year and none of the other schools right now can compete with them.”

The teams will play each other once and had the option of picking up an eighth game during the bye week. A same-site bowl game day is planned for the one-two, three-four and five-six teams to match up to end the season.

“We want to provide our kids with a rewarding experience in football and hopefully we can all build where we can get back into the section and get back to where we can start competing for a section title,” DeRosa said. “We don’t want our kids to get discouraged. We want them to have a rewarding and exciting football experience and we all think this is the best way to achieve this at this time.”


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April 27, 2018

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