By Jim Hague
When Joe Castagnetti resigned as the head football coach at Lyndhurst High School after the 2008 season, he stepped aside with his family in mind.
“It was a crazy time for my wife, Jodi, and my kids and me,” Castagnetti said. “I didn’t know what my kids wanted to do. It was still unknown. It’s still crazy now, but not as crazy.”
That’s because Castagnetti’s children – Isabella (11), Joey (10) and Francesca (8) – are a little older now.
“When I stepped down, it wasn’t easy,” Castagnetti said. “Coaching football was tough on them and on my wife. Football became an issue, even though it’s always been a part of my life.”
Plus, at the time of his resignation, Castagnetti had just received a promotion within the Lyndhurst school district. He was also relieved to know that his friend and former teammate Scott Rubinetti was taking over the program, with Rubinetti coming home to become the head coach.
The Golden Bears enjoyed their best season since 1983 last fall, winning eight games and advancing in the NJSIAA state playoffs for the first time in almost 30 years with a win over neighboring rival Rutherford.
However, adversity struck the program during the offseason, when Rubinetti was suspended without pay as a teacher and coach after his arrest last January for his alleged sexual involvement with a teenage student girl. Rubinetti still has to face the charges of his shocking arrest.
Castagnetti served as an assistant coach for the last two seasons and was the defensive coordinator on last year’s successful squad. To keep a sense of continuity and decorum from last year’s team – with a ton of talented players returning – it only made sense for Castagnetti to return to his position as head coach.
“As soon as it happened, I had a conversation with Jodi about me returning,” Castagnetti said. “She knows how much I love to coach and how much I loved the kids. I’ve learned how to deal with family life and deal with things. Coaching was doable.”
Castagnetti approached Lyndhurst vice-principal Frank Venezia, who ironically was one of Castagnetti’s football coaches at Lyndhurst, and discussed the situation.
“We felt it was the best thing to do for the kids,” Castagnetti said. “Mr. Venezia and I sat down after it happened and thought it was the best thing to keep things as normal as possible. We all agreed that it was the best situation.”
So Castagnetti was named the interim head coach in February. Last week, the Lyndhurst Board of Education decided to lift the interim tag and appointed Castagnetti as the head coach once again, a position he held from 2002 through 2008, posting solid records of 7-3 in 2004 and 6-4 in his final season of 2008.
“I think everyone just wanted to keep operations moving in the right direction,” Castagnetti said. “We had a good season last year. We want to keep Lyndhurst on the map. We’re going to be alright. The kids know who I am and they know what I’m all about.”
Castagnetti said that he was approached by hundreds of people who wanted to know if he was going to return as head coach.
“Everywhere I went, I was getting bombarded by people, stopping me, asking me if I would take it over,” Castagnetti said. “I couldn’t say anything because of the process. I had to low key everything. But it all worked out. I’m happy. The kids are happy. We’re ready to get to work.”
The Golden Bears were already involved in their extensive weight training program and started 7-on-7 scrimmages last week with Weehawken, Harrison and St. Anthony of Jersey City. It’s business as usual for Lyndhurst football.
“Things happen for a reason,” Castagnetti said. “For me to go back makes the most sense. I’m just happy the way it all played out.”
Castagnetti was asked about the reaction of the players.
“They’re excited,” Castagnetti said. “When it all happened, they immediately asked me what was going to happen with the team. It was tough for me, because at the time, I couldn’t tell them. I just tried to keep them upbeat.”
“Without a doubt, they’re ready,” Castagnetti said. “They’re chomping at the bit just to compete again. We want to pick up where we left off last season.”
Sure, the cloud of controversy hasn’t fully left Lyndhurst, considering that Rubinetti’s case has not come up for trial or whether he’s working on a plea deal. But at the very least, the Lyndhurst football program has a very familiar face to lead the way. A newcomer, an outsider, didn’t have to be brought in.
“Everything is going to be fine,” Castagnetti said. “We’re definitely moving forward from all of this.”