By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
It was only two years ago when there was a sense of joy and pride coming from the Kearny High School football program.
In May 2013, the Kearny Board of Education made perhaps one of the best personnel moves when it hired Nick Edwards as the new head football coach.
Edwards seemed to be perfect for the position. He was a longtime assistant in the program. He was already a teacher in the district. He was young, energetic, a familiar face to the community.
Plain and simple, Nick Edwards was going to restore some pride in the Kearny football program. He was going to work with the youth program to serve as a feeder system. He conducted free clinics to get kids interested and involved in the game.
Edwards was going to break the long-standing stigma that Kearny is a soccer town and nothing more. Hell, it has the nickname of “Soccertown, USA” already in place. How could football dare to compete with that?
But Edwards was definitely the man and sure sounded that way when he took the job two years ago.
Try these words on for size.
“I know what I’m getting into,” Edwards said in May 2013. “I want to be here. I’m well aware of what has happened in the past. I plan on being here for a long time.”
Athletic director John Millar felt the same way.
“At this time in his life, Nick is well prepared,” Millar said when Edwards was hired. “He’s ready. He’s desired to be a head coach all his life. Hopefully, he achieves all of his goals. We’ve had a lot of good guys who have tried to turn this thing around and make us a successful football program. Down the road, we will be successful. Nick is going to make this successful, not just for the school, but the whole community. I hope that Nick is a long-term guy and he’s here for a very long time turned out to be only two years, because Edwards submitted his letter of resignation last week.
“I’ve told everyone that I’m leaving for personal reasons,” Edwards said last week. “I sat down with my family and my girlfriend and talked about it for quite some time. I knew it was time for me to walk away and do what’s best for me. I’m just tired. Right now, I want to take some time and take care of me. It’s not about getting another job. It’s about taking some time for myself. It’s a difficult position to be a head coach. It takes a lot of hours and a lot of time. There are more issues than just football and that took its toll.”
Edwards did not elaborate as to what those issues were. He did not comment when asked. Instead, Edwards took the high road.
“I was fighting with the decision for a while,” Edwards said. “The only thing that was telling me to stay was the kids. I’m definitely disappointed, especially for the kids, because they have to go through another coach again and not having that stability.”
It is true that the position of head coach with the Kardinals has been a revolving door. There was Rich Howell, Matt Occhipinti, then the program was shut down, brought back once again with Howell, then Oscar Guerrero, then Pete Llaneza and now Edwards. All of that change has taken place within the last decade.
Edwards made some inroads this past season, as the Kardinals posted a 4-6 record and flirted with qualifying for the NJSIAA state playoffs for the very first time.
Just that fact alone tells you something. Kearny has never made the state playoffs in the 40-plus year history of the NJSIAA state playoffs. They are the only Hudson County program to never make a state playoff appearance and one of only a handful throughout the state.
Edwards said that he felt like he was making some progress during his brief stint.
“I think I’ve done a lot,” Edwards said. “I put a lot of time and a lot of effort into it. We went from 30 kids in the program to 70 kids. We brought back the freshman program. The kids’ academics were in place. We had only one kid to go to summer school last year. I thought I helped to bring some excitement back to Kearny football.”
Then why leave?
“Who knows if I could have stayed one more year or 10 more years?” Edwards asked. “I know I leave with my head held high.”
Edwards would not budge when pressed about his reasons for resigning. It appeared as if he had a bright future as the Kearny grid coach.
“The reasons are personal and I’ll stick with that,” Edwards said.
Edwards won’t get into it – but we will.
It’s been written here several times over the last decade or so that a complete commitment is necessary to make football work in Kearny. And if the powers-that-be, namely the Board of Education and the school’s administration, aren’t willing to go the full nine yards, then they should just fold up shop and not have a football program.
You can’t go half way – or in Kearny’s case, one-quarter of the way – and think that a program is going to succeed.
Kearny is in desperate need of an overhaul with its weight training and locker room facilities. In fact, the conditions there are disgraceful. There have not been improvements made to the facilities at Davis Field in 70 years.
Sure, FieldTurf was put down about a decade ago, but even now that surface is in dire need of reconditioning. The weight room never has heat. During the winter months, the players were subjected to sub-freezing conditions in the weight room, forcing the coaching staff to regularly close the doors and send the kids home.
Those two decrepit buildings that flank the football field are hideous. They should be totally knocked down and have a nice state-of-the-art facility constructed.
Can it be done? All you need to do is look a little to the north and see what they now have in Lyndhurst and North Arlington. Those schools now have beautiful facilities.
Even Queen of Peace has a better weight room than Kearny. You can’t even call what Kearny has as a weight room. It’s just a room.
The time has come to tear down those wretched buildings and get a brand new one. And if the Board of Education did it the right way and built a new training facility, they could probably sell memberships to the residents to defray some of the cost.
Put a referendum on the ballot and see if the voters wouldn’t float a million or two to build a new weight training complex.
That would be the first step. Then, there would have to be better support from the administration, parents, residents, you name it. Everyone should rally together and back the Kardinals’ football program, not go at it like it’s a weak ugly stepsister to soccer.
If not, then just scrap it. Forget about football and be what you already are, a soccer town.
Losing Nick Edwards was a major blow to the entire Kearny athletic program, not just football. He’s only 34. He should have been a treasure to embrace and enjoy for many years, not tossed aside like so many other football coaches over the years.
It’s either you do it the right way or don’t do it at all. It sounds like a broken record, because I’ve written it more practically than my own name over the last decade. This is shameful. Maybe Edwards’ departure might open some eyes and get things done the right way. It’s doubtful, but one never knows.