By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The revolving door of head athletic coaches continued to spin last week, when the powersthat- be at Queen of Peace decided to fire head football coach Steve Romano and his entire coaching staff after three seasons. Romano’s team qualified for the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 1 state playoffs for the second straight year despite having a 2-7 record at the time. The Golden Griffins ended their season with a 35-12 loss to St. Anthony last Saturday.
“At the end of the game, I told the kids to take two weeks off and we’ll be back in the weight room,” said Romano, who guided the Golden Griffins to a 9-20 record over the three seasons.
“I was looking forward to next year and intended to be back. I figured if we could keep a couple kids in the school and get a few more, we’d be okay.”
But school principal Brother Larry Lavallee thought otherwise and told athletic director Ed Abromaitis to deliver the news to Romano that he would not return next season.
“I was floored,” Romano said. “Especially since I help to pay for a number of the kids to be there. Abro called me on the phone at 3:30 on Tuesday to tell me I was fired. When I asked for the reason, he said it was insubordination.”
According to Abromaitis, who himself was fired as athletic director after 27 years by Lavallee three years ago and then was rehired last August, the insubordination took place in September, when one of the Golden Griffins was suspended for a game for words that he posted on his Twitter page.
Lavallee told Abromaitis that he wanted to see Romano to talk about the situation, but Romano refused to see Lavallee.
“That’s grossly insubordinate, not going to see the principal when he wants to see you,” Abromaitis said. “We had no choice. Brother Larry wanted to fire him then, but I talked him out of it, because it was early in the season. What’s fair is fair.”
The firing comes on top of Lavallee informing Romano that he was not going to be paid the balance of what he was owed from his coaching salary.
“I was supposed to get $15,000 as a salary, of which I gave $8,000 to help with kids’ tuitions,” Romano said. “When I asked for the remaining $7,000, he (Lavallee) said he wasn’t giving it to me. They didn’t pay me what they owed me in the first year either.”
Abromaitis would not comment on Romano’s salary situation.
“That’s between Steve and Brother Larry,” Abromaitis said.
Romano was more than upset with the firing. “I feel blindsided, betrayed and robbed,” Romano said. “On top of it, they tell me they’re not paying me? Are they out of their minds?”
Romano said that he felt bad for the kids of the football program.
“They’re trying to hurt these kids again and it’s unfair,” Romano said. “More than half of those kids are there because of me. I feel bad for the administration’s ignorance. They need Steve Romano more than Steve Romano needs Queen of Peace, that’s for sure.”
Romano has a point there – because if it weren’t for Romano’s diligence in trying desperately to keep the talented Monmohin twins, Kevin and Keith, in school last August, the football program would have been discontinued and the season would have ended there.
As it turned out, the Golden Griffins managed to play with the Monmohin twins – and about 12 others that were ready to play high school varsity football. The team consisted of only 23 players, but 14 of those were legitimate matriculating high school football players.
Romano did whatever he could to keep that program alive, even donating his own salary and getting friends to act as benefactors and boosters to his program.
It’s safe to say that the firing of Romano might be the death knell for Queen of Peace football. With him, they had a shot to be competitive next season. Without him, there will more than likely be a mass exodus of kids heading to other schools, leaving the program with no coach and no players.
Romano heard word that former QP great Joe Torchia was already named as the new head coach. Torchia, who had a great career at the University of Virginia and went to training camp with the Washington Redskins last year, was hired as a teacher by the school in September.
But Abromaitis denied the rumors about Torchia.
“Joe Torchia is not the head coach and he’s not going to be the head coach at Queen of Peace,” Abromaitis said. “Do we have a head coach now? No. It’s not fair to Joe Torchia and I wouldn’t want that.”
Abromaitis was asked if Romano did a good job as a football coach.
“Did he do a bad job? No,” Abromaitis said. “He held the program together with Band- Aids and string. It wasn’t easy. He had kids in and out of the lineup all year.”
So why fire him? It seems to be a common trait about Queen of Peace. In the last decade alone, there have been eight head football coaches, six head boys’ basketball coaches, five girls’ basketball coaches and four head baseball coaches.
Abromaitis, part of the constant transition the school always has, is aware of it.
“We don’t want a revolving door,” Abromaitis said. “We would love to have someone here who is willing to spend 15 years here. But I can’t control that.”
If Romano was himself helping to keep kids in school so they could play football, how does the football program survive? If you’re a prospective eighth grader and thinking about attending a high school and playing sports, why would you ever look in the direction of Queen of Peace?
It once had a great football tradition, a proud gridiron group spearheaded by people like Ralph Borgess and his sons, Richie and Ralph and his protégés like Andy Cerco.
Well, Coach Borgess and his son Ralph have now passed on. The Coach, one of my dearest friends in the world, would have been mortified to see what this program has become. He would be sickened and disgusted.
In this corner, giving Romano his walking papers will signify the death of Queen of Peace football. I don’t know if anyone would want the job, considering all the surrounding circumstances, like a principal who decided to withhold pay of his head coach and slice the pay of assistant coaches on a whim.
I can’t see how football survives now.
Romano said he will survive.
“I’m 100 percent sure I’ll coach again,” Romano said. “I don’t know who Queen of Peace will still have. I really never saw this happening, nor did any of my assistant coaches. They gave of their time and had their pay cut in half before the season started. Hey, I’ll be a head coach again. Count on it.”
Whether Queen of Peace has another football coach is another thing entirely. My money is on the school announcing after the New Year that they’re discontinuing football, unless someone comes along and writes a huge check to the school that enables the school to bring in a very patient and understanding man to run the program. It’s highly unlikely, considering the revolving door that has been spinning at the school for a decade. Think about it. If you’re a prospective head football coach, do you want to work there?