QP hires Russo to take over beleaguered grid program

The revolving door, also known as the Queen of Peace head football coaching carousel, has been spinning out of control for the last dozen years.

Over that time, an incredible nine men have tried to be the head coach of the Golden Griffins. Some have been prominent alumni _ former player, former coaches. Others have been successful head coaches elsewhere.

With the exception of former player and coach Andy Cerco, who guided the Golden Griffins to their lone state title, the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 2 title over DePaul in 2004, and followed that year up with another state championship appearance in 2005, posting an 11-0 record before falling to St. Joseph of Hammonton in the title game, there really hasn’t been much success at QP.

There has only been one winning season _ that being the 6-5 record the Griffins had under former head coach and alumnus Bob Kearns in 2013.

So many have come to QP and tried to inject life into the football program and none have been able to get the job done.

Enter Greg Russo.

He’s the latest in the line of head football coaches at QP, jumping aboard the carousel as it spins in its worst time.

The Golden Griffins were 0-6 last year under wrestling coach Scot Weaver and had to disband the season after those first six games because of a lack of healthy players. In fact, the Golden Griffins had only 14 healthy bodies for their last game against Elmwood Park. The team scored only four touchdowns all season.

So the 36-year-old Russo comes to QP after a solid run as an assistant at Paramus Catholic, helping the Paladins collect two Non-Public Group 4 titles in the last three years.
And like others that preceded him, Russo is confident that he can turn the program around, win some games and stick around for a while.

“I had been called before about the job,” Russo said. “This year, it’s time. I wasn’t looking for another job. I was happy at Paramus Catholic. There were some people who told me that things weren’t good at Queen of Peace, so I was a little hesitant at first. But then I started talking to a bunch of people and listening to what they had to say. I listened to the people at the school and heard about all that’s going on. I heard about all the plans for the school and got encouraged.

Added Russo, “They have a management team in place. It’s very business-like, like they’re running a business and a school. I’m behind them 100 percent.”

Russo was asked if he was sure the school would remain open after this school year. After all, it was over the summer where the school had to unleash a massive $1.5 million fundraising campaign from alumni just to keep the doors open.

“If I wasn’t sure that they would be open, I wouldn’t have taken the job,” Russo said. “I wanted to make sure for myself, that I felt good about the school. Now, I have no doubt about it whatsoever.”

Russo knows that he’s walking into a hornets’ nest, that the program will need massive reconstruction to even be competitive. First and foremost, the program needs players. They cannot survive with participation numbers in the 20s and teens.

“Absolutely, we have to build it,” said Russo, who already has an assistant coaching staff in place, one that includes former NFL linebacker Blake Costanzo, who was an All-State player at Ramapo and later Lafayette. “I’m really excited about that aspect, building it. It’s not going to be easy, that’s for sure. I have to build a freshman class. I have to have a full weight training program. I have to have the right system to get our players into college.”

Russo explained the reasons why he’s so optimistic.

“People told us (at Paramus Catholic) that we could never beat St. Joe’s (Montvale) or Don Bosco and we did,” Russo said. “If you have the right players who are willing to put the work in, it can happen. I also am encouraged by the people at the school who are enthusiastic and passionate. I know it can be done.”

Russo said that the school’s new administration, headed by Kearny native John Tonero, the new principal, and Father Mike Donovan, the parish’s new pastor and the school’s new president, has also been helpful.

“With the new administration in place, we are going to get out there and get the word out,” Russo said. “We’re going to talk to people, to get out there and show people what we’re all about. The school has a very clear plan moving forward. If people knew what we were all about, then that’s half the battle.”

Russo said that he’s reached out to people of the past, like the aforementioned Cerco and prominent alumnus and attorney Tony Riposta, to ask for guidance.

“Coach Cerco (who is also an attorney) is willing to help us out,” Russo said. “These are great people and they’re super supportive. We all want to do it together.”

Russo said that he’s already received calls from area youth football coaches, offering assistance.

“They’re excited, because they’re getting to know me and my staff,” Russo said. “Everyone has the same concerns. We have to show them, prove to them that we’re changing. I think QP has a pretty bright future. I know other Parochial schools have made comebacks. We just have to get to work.”

Russo said that he can draw strength from his high school coach at Paramus Catholic, Mike Campanile, whose two sons, Vito and Nunzio, have become successful coaches.

“Mike Campanile was hard to play for, but I learned so much,” Russo said. “He makes you believe that anything can be done, even when people tell you that you can’t do it. We have good kids here. We just have to get this rolling.”

Russo has a lot to do to get the Griffins just to stand on their own, before any rolling takes place.

At least Russo has done the right thing right away. He’s embraced instead of antagonizing the deeply faithful Golden Griffin alumni and parents. That’s the first successful step.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”