By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
When Joe Fischer stepped down as the Belleville High School football coach in 2007, the year he led the Buccaneers to their last appearance in the NJSIAA state playoffs, he cited family reasons behind his resignation.
“My kids were young at the time,” Fischer said. “It was the right thing to do.”
But a little more than a year ago, Fischer got the inkling that he wanted to return to coaching football. He already was coaching the track team at Belleville, so he was involved in coaching something. Fischer never left teaching at Belleville since he arrived a decade ago.
“I interviewed for a few jobs,” said Fischer, who was a finalist for the West Orange head football coaching position last year. “The itch to return has been back for a while. My kids are older now. The time was right to come back.”
So when John Dubuque resigned at the end of last football season at Belleville, Fischer thought that the time was right for a comeback.
Fischer’s comeback became official recently when the Belleville Board of Education appointed Fischer to be Dubuque’s replacement.
“The facilities now are much better than when I left,” Fischer said. “The number of kids wanting to play football is bigger. The schedule isn’t as bad as it was. Those are probably the three major reasons why I came back, but there are so many reasons why I came back. There’s a weight lifting and conditioning coach now. That’s so much less of a burden.”
Fischer spent four seasons as the head coach at Belleville, after he turned around a totally moribund program at Montclair Kimberley Academy and led MKA to two victories in the NJSIAA state playoffs.
When Fischer arrived at Belleville, the program was in the midst of the state’s longest losing streak. The Buccaneers lost all 10 games in Fischer’s first season in 2004, but Fischer was the head coach when the Bucs defeated Paterson Eastside in October of 2005, snapping the streak at 33 games.
Fischer had a 10-30 record in his four seasons as Belleville head coach.
“I’m very excited about coming back to be the head coach,” Fischer said. “I’m ready for Nutley right now. I wish the football season started tomorrow.”
The Buccaneers open the 2014 season against the neighboring rivals.
The Belleville football program has been down over the last few years, winning just five games and losing 25 over the last three years.
“Things have been a mess for a while,” Fischer said. “But things have obviously changed since I was the head coach at Belleville. I have a big advantage over when I took over in 2004. I know the kids already because I teach here and I coach track. It’s not the worst program around. I know my work is cut out for me, but I’m ready.”
Fischer said that he has been busy already interviewing candidates to join his coaching staff.
“I was talking to Ken Trimmer (the legendary head coach at Caldwell) and he asked me why I wanted to go back. I told him that I’m going to get a chance to prove that I’m a good coach. I love teaching here. I love the kids. I’m ingrained here. I might have left coaching, but I never left Belleville. I truly believe that we have talent here that we can groom.”
Fischer has already seen signs that the kids are eager to play.
“We have had as many as 30 kids in the weight room getting ready,” Fischer said. “I have a bunch of football kids running track for me.”
Fischer said that he would love to implement a youth football program in the Belleville middle school.
“I love going to the middle school and getting to know those kids,” Fischer said. “We have to try to hook them at that level before they get swooped up by the parochial schools. In 2005, we didn’t lose many kids to the parochial schools. You have to have a connection with the middle school kids now. I want to have some sort of a feeder program.”
Fischer said that there’s talent in the players that are returning in the fall.
“We have several kids that are back,” Fischer said. “We have four offensive linemen back. We have a quarterback and a wide receiver. We have about 10 talented kids who didn’t play football last year. We just have to fill some holes, but we’re in much better shape than we were when I took over in 2004.”
Fischer said that there’s one thing in mind right now.“My goal for now is to beat Nutley,” Fischer said. “That’s the first game. I’m very excited and I think the kids are excited. We’re ready to go.”
So is Fischer’s son, Joey, who is 13 now.
“He’s going to have a ball being with us,” Fischer said.
So is Fischer, especially when he’s manning the sidelines of Doc Ellis Field like he did a decade ago, leading the Buccaneers from the doldrums of the state’s longest losing streak to the NJSIAA state playoffs. He’s worked wonders in the past. Chances are that he could again.