Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Legendary Chris Pagliaro

Our hosts Chris and Linda

The first post ever on this blog was a David Lassen article in the Ventura County Star about my reasons for coming to Sicily.  In a nutshell I was fulfilling a promise I made to my old friend Rick Scott who suddenly passed away of a heart attack the day after we promised each other to go coach in Europe once we were both retired from teaching.

The reason we were even thinking about making this promise that fateful night was all the stories we had heard over the years from one of the legends of Ventura County football coaching, Chris Pagliaro.

In 1970, when I started my coaching career as a J.V. assistant coach at Thousand Oaks H.S., "Pags" was already well established as the successful head coach at crosstown rival Newbury Park H.S.  In those pre-historic days before camcorders, we would have to physically scout opponents and chart plays by hand during the course of games.  This meant that at least two coaches would have to go the game to be able to quickly record what they saw as the scouted team's blocking scheme, backfield action and pass routes before the next play started and still jot down the down, distance, hash mark and field position before the ball was snapped.

I bring this up because that first season of coaching I had to go scout a St. Bonaventure at Newbury Park game on a hot Saturday afternoon when the hillsides were ablaze and smoke and ashes made nearly impossible to see and breath.  I said "nearly".  The game was still played in the worst conditions I've ever seen... we were a tougher nation back then.

That season Newbury Park played Thousand Oaks for the first time to a memorable 48-48 tie.  Amazingly each team scored 6 TDs and each were successful on all six 2-point conversions.  As crazy as that sounds, the thing I remember the most, besides N.P. QB Jerry Torgeson's insane 80 yard TD run on the game's opening play, was that with 1:02 left in the 4th quarter the score was 40-40.  Both teams would put up yet another 8 points in the closing seconds to preserve the tie.  I don't know if it is still true but at the time it was the highest scoring tie game in California high school football history.

Chris would eventually hire Rick Scott at N.P.H.S. before moving on to a job as an assistant coach/athletic counselor at Santa Barbara City College.  It was during his time at S.B.C.C. that Chris started his European adventures.  Being a great story teller, he would tell us hilarious tales about his experiences in Europe that, as it turned out, prepared me mentally for the transition from a typical American football experience to the much more laid back Italian atmosphere.

Chris' first experience on the continent was when he joined former Cleveland Browns Head Coach Sam Rutigliano in 1988 to coach an American college Division III All-star team that played a two game series against the Blues, i.e., the Italian National team.  They played one game in Milan and the other in Pisa.

He enjoyed the experience so much that he returned to Italy in 1989 to be the Head Coach of the Saronno Pharones.  This team was based in a suburb of Milan.

Next up, in 1993, was a job as the Defensive Coordinator of the Geneva Seahawks in Switzerland.

The 1997 season saw him return to Switzerland to become the Co-Head Coach of the Zurich Renegades with Giorgio Volpi.  Giorgio was a key figure in landing me the job in Catania last year.  It really IS who you know after all!

It was on to Austria for Chris in 2000 for another Head Coaching job with Klagenfurt.  His son Vince was his defensive Coordinator that season.

In a role reversal, Chris' last two seasons coaching in Europe came in 2001 and 2002 as an assistant to Vince this time with a team in Madrid that won the Spanish League's championship in 2001.  Vince remembered his Dad's famous (infamous?) quote in winning the title in his first campaign as a Head Coach, "Success in football is 90% coaching".  You just can't make this stuff up and Rick Scott was sure to remind him about this quote EVERY time we met... this is truly the joy of coaching so long and making friends in the profession.

Over the years his stories just kept piling up making the idea of following in his footsteps just too attractive to pass up.  So here I am preparing to leave for Sicily again in about 11 days.

Last night we were invited to Chris and Linda's place in the Winchester Canyon area of Goleta, just north of Santa Barbara, to dinner.  We had a GREAT time and, among his many other talents, Chris turns out to be a damn good Italian chef.  Excellent lasagna, lightly fried portabella mushrooms, meatballs, salad, wine, incredible home made cannoli and conversation to top off a fun night.

Chris and Linda will be coming to Italy this spring and plan to spend a week in Sicily as Chris searches for his family's Sicilian roots.  As it turns out his grandfather was from Santa Elia and his grandmother hailed from nearby Carini.  Both of these villages are located near Palermo at the western end of Sicily.  We are looking forward to hosting them when they come to Catania and hopefully they will be there for one of our games.



Anonymous said...

It's a small world after all. Before I started my football career at TOHS my stepdad was the team doctor for NPHS. As he was the team doctor I was able to accompany him into the locker room at halftime. Pags had a whole different coaching style than Joe Howell's TOHS staff.
I was on the NPHS sideline at the TOHS, NPHS 48-48 tie. My step sister and brother were enrolled at TOHS and my stepdad was still the team Doc for NPHS. Not a fun time at our house.
A small world indeed.

George said...

After a thorough investigation, I have come to the conclusion that "Anonymous" is in fact one Chris Nielsen.

Chris was a stellar offensive lineman when I coached him on the 1974 and 1975 Varsity football teams at Thousand Oaks H.S. and is still a very good friend.

A small world indeed!

Anonymous said...

This is Billy, from the Spanish Madrid Osos. I was just trying to find the Pagliaros in Facebook or similar when founf this!
I´m so proud of being coached by the Pags in the past, so must they... as they are still remembered around as the Coaches of our Team best days.

I want to say thanks again to them by the time they welcomed me warmly as another family member in Goleta. This time my personal best time as well.

Un abrazo!