Nutley grid coach DiGregorio retires

After leading the Nutley High School football team to an undefeated season last fall, veteran head coach Steve DiGregorio has decided to retire as head coach.

DiGregorio staged a valiant comeback while battling pancreatic cancer in 2020, after having taken a step back in 2019 to undergo treatment to combat the illness.

Through it all, DiGregorio vowed to return to the sidelines to coach his beloved Maroon Raiders and he did last fall, leading Nutley through a pandemic-shortened campaign that ended with Nutley finishing with an undefeated 6-0 record, the school’s first undefeated football season since 1939.

However, the cancer has returned, forcing the 60-year-old DiGregorio to make the emotional decision to retire.

After having stopped chemotherapy treatments just about a year ago, DiGregorio has resumed chemo and decided that it was just too difficult to juggle the health problems and coaching at the same time.

DiGregorio told his players in an extremely emotional Zoom call last week.

“I told the kids that I’ll always be part of them,” said DiGregorio, who had two stints as the head football coach at his alma mater first from 2004 through 2011 and then 2017 through 2020. “And I’ll be around. I’ll never leave football. I’m a Maroon Raider. But in my mind, I thought this was the right thing to do.”

After it was learned in January that the cancer had returned, DiGregorio talked it over with his wife, Nadia, and the couple’s three sons.

“Nadia was behind it,” DiGregorio said.

Needless to say, DiGregorio goes out on his terms, having led the Maroon Raiders to an unblemished record in 2020, a season for the record books.

“It was a hell of a year,” DiGregorio said. “The kids were tremendous. The staff was tremendous.”

So it’s only fitting that DiGregorio goes out on top.

“I trust my doctors very much,” DiGregorio said. “They said, ‘If you’re even thinking about it, then it’s the right decision.’ My body has been through so much.”

DiGregorio said that his initial cancer was not officially determined to be in remission.

“I don’t think we ever used that term,” DiGregorio said. “I stopped chemo in March, 2020 and I felt great.”

With that, DiGregorio returned and guided his team to six emotional victories, capped with a 42-7 victory over Belleville the Saturday after Thanksgiving at the newly refurbished Nutley Oval.

“What the season did was validate everything you believe in as a coach,” DiGregorio said. “The relationships I developed with players. We have a super bunch of kids in Nutley. I believe in them more than anything. The coaching staff was the best in the state.”

But now, the veteran coach, who had a brilliant career coaching at places like Princeton University and Princeton High School, leaves with his head held high.

“It’s all good,” DiGregorio said. “I’m good with everything. I have no regrets. Will I miss it? Of course, I will. But Derek (DiGregorio’s youngest of three sons) and I will go to different football games in the fall together.

Added DiGregorio, “I was so fortunate and blessed to have had a coaching career where I was offered the head coaching position at both of my alma maters (Nutley and Muhlenberg College). How many people have that kind of an opportunity?”

DiGregorio guided the Maroon Raiders to 85 victories during his two stints. He led the Maroon Raiders to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III state championship game against Morristown in 2009, the first-ever year of MetLife Stadium.

“I’ll always remember the players,” DiGregorio said. “I’ll always remember taking those teams and leading them down the stairs at the Oval. It never got old. I could have done that 1,000 times. It’s a great place to be a football coach.”

DiGregorio was asked how he wanted to be remembered as a football coach.

“It was my job to have built better memories for the players,” DiGregorio said. “It was my job to instruct the coaches and lead them as to what to do. This coaching staff is so good. I will continue to be a resource for them.”

DiGregorio said that he will always cherish the times he spent coaching at his alma mater. He plans on remaining on as a teacher in the school.

“You bet I enjoyed myself,” DiGregorio said. “I really did. There are always going to be some bumps in the road and some games I’d love to have back. But I have nothing but great memories. The kids never quit.”

And in life, neither will Steve DiGregorio.

DiGregorio will hope that the Nutley Board of Education does the right thing and appoints assistant coach J.D. Vick as the permanent head coach. Vick stepped in and ran the program while DiGregorio was getting cancer treatments in 2019. It is only fitting that Vick is given the opportunity to take over the job that his friend and mentor started.

“It would certainly be my wish, but I don’t have a say in that,” DiGregorio said. “The program is in good shape. They have some great players coming back. The Oval has been redone. It’s now one of the best fields in the state.”

From a personal standpoint, I’ve been blessed to have worked with Steve DiGregorio for more than 30 years, from his days as an assistant coach at Princeton University, a team that I covered many times in the 1980s. He’s not just another football coach that I have interviewed. He’s someone that I consider to be a close friend, someone I greatly admire, someone I always look forward to talking to – about football and about life.

That relationship is not going to change because Steve DiGregorio is no longer coaching football. He’s always going to be a phone call away. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to miss the countless calls made during the football season to talk proudly about his team. There were the victories, many, many victories. He has earned the opportunity to walk away on his terms. It doesn’t mean he’s not going to be missed. Congrats on a job well done, Coach and enjoy retirement.




Nutley head football coach Steve DiGregorio, shown here in a file photo from 2009, has stepped down as the head coach of the Maroon Raiders, as he will continue treatment to combat pancreatic cancer. Photo by Jim Hague






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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.”