New Nutley grid coach is an old one: DiGregorio

When Steve DiGregorio stepped down as the head football coach at Nutley High School five years ago, he never dreamed he would be a head coach ever again.

“I thought I was done being a head football coach,” said DiGregorio, who resigned after the 2011 season to devote more of his time to his family.

But when Tom Basile resigned after five years with the Maroon Raiders at the close of last season, the thought of returning bounced around in DiGregorio’s mind.

After all, DiGregorio is still a U.S. history teacher in the Nutley school district. He’s still close to the program.

“Tom Basile is one of my best friends in the world,” DiGregorio said. “I talk to him a lot. We still rely on each other like we did when we worked together. I think he did a terrific job as head coach. He’s a hell of a friend and a hell of a coach.”

The idea was pleasing to Nutley athletic director Joe Piro.

“As the athletic director, as a former football player at the school, and a former coach, I couldn’t be happier,” Piro said.

So it was a no-brainer for everyone to bring DiGregorio back as the head coach.

“Steve personifies my expectations of a football coach,” Piro said. “His character, his integrity and what he builds his life on are impeccable. Our players and parents get a big win here. I’m excited that he decided to come back.”

The relationship between Piro and DiGregorio goes back a long way.

“Steve’s first experience in football, in Midget League, was with a team whose head coach was my father, Charlie,” Piro said. “Steve always references to that. His passion for the sport and passion for his family is like no other. When Tommy resigned, he was the first person I called, like I do anytime anything happens with football. I call Steve. I think that called sparked his interest in coming back.”

DiGregorio said that he felt right about returning.

“I think the timing was right,” DiGregorio said. “I was very comfortable with it. When I began to consider it, I had to ask my wife first and she was all for it. I talked to my three sons and they’re all in.”

DiGregorio had his experience in college coaching, especially a stint as the assistant at Princeton University, but nothing was like manning the sidelines at the Oval with his beloved Maroon Raiders.

“I’ve deliberately stayed away since I left,” DiGregorio said. “I went to one game against Belleville and that’s it. I had about four students last year who played football. I do know how they play football.”

DiGregorio is Nutley through and through. A graduate of Nutley (Class of 1979), DiGregorio played football for the Maroon Raiders for four years.

After coaching at Princeton University, he was the head coach at Paramus Catholic, then returned to his alma mater to serve as head coach from 2004 through 2011, posting a record of 42-41 over that time.

The highlight of DiGregorio’s coaching stint was taking the Maroon Raiders to the 2010 NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III state championship game at MetLife Stadium, the first year that MetLife Stadium was open.

When DiGregorio left, he had the chance to watch his sons play high school football at Princeton High and eventually served as a volunteer assistant there, working with his two sons, Zack and Aaron.

Zack DiGregorio will be a senior at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall and serves as the quarterback for the Quakers’ lightweight sprint football team. Aaron will go to Franklin & Marshall in the fall. Middle son Derek will go to Mercer Community College.

With all three either in college or graduating, the time was right for a return to the sidelines where it all began.

DiGregorio can’t comprehend how the entire thing unraveled.

“It’s crazy, right?” DiGregorio asked. “Going through the process, I was thinking about that. I do know that everything just fell into place. The timing was right.”

DiGregorio had his first meeting with his football team last week.

“We had a good meeting,” DiGregorio said. “They had their eyes open and the attention span was in place. I told that that I was excited about the next time we meet (before the team begins practices in August).”

The Maroon Raiders are scheduled to kick off the 2017 season against West Essex.

“I’m looking forward to taking these kids to the highest level,” DiGregorio said. “One way or another, I’m looking forward to getting to know the kids better. I’m always encouraged by good numbers coming back. I’m very excited about this opportunity.”

Piro said that he always had an inkling that DiGregorio would return.

“I had a feeling he would be back on the Nutley sideline,” Piro said. “I never thought I’d see him back as the head coach. I wasn’t sure what kind of role he would have. Steve knows a lot about football and we’re lucky to have him with us.”

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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.”