For the last 36 years Rick Giancola has been the head coach of the football team at Montclair State University. Nine time New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Coach of the Year awards and eleven championships later, Giancola has plenty of accolades to hang his hat on. However, the 72 year old has no plans of stopping anytime soon. He says, “I love coaching and I will continue to coach until I no longer love it.”
Giancola started his coaching career back in 1975 where he earned an assistant coaching position at Montclair State University. Prior to coaching, he was a former athlete who became a math teacher after deciding he “wasn’t good enough to [play professionally.]” Giancola was the assistant coach for seven seasons, which has impacted him more than he could have ever imagined. During that time is when he met and coached a player by the name of Sam Mills.
Sam Mills was a 5’9″ linebacker that most coaches and scouts overlooked. Giancola and the rest of the coaching staff at MSU saw something special in the player who he describes was a “hard nose, hard working, great man.” Mills would go on to play for the Philadelphia Stars (USFL), and in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers.
Mills unfortunately passed away from cancer at a young age of 46. The impression he left upon Giancola and the football program at MSU is one of Giancola’s most cherished experiences however. He even keeps the helmets of the teams Mills played for displayed in his office for keepsake, along with framed jerseys and photographs.
“He defined what a man is or should be. He had a passion and drive to be the best player he could possibly be, ” said coach Giancola.
Giancola’s admiration for Mills has never dwindled over the years. Infact, he wears a wristband in honor of him. The wristband reads “Keep Pounding,” a phrase coined by Mills during his fight with cancer that both the Red Hawks and the Carolina Panthers use as their slogan to this day.
Nowadays Giancola spends most of his time preparing for the next game and focuses solely on how to improve.
“He’s the first man in at 8 am and the last one to leave at 10 pm. Especially during the summer,” said Todd Agresta, assistant coach and defensive coordinator of the team. Agresta is the second longest tenured coach on the team having notched his 19th season at MSU this past fall. He has learned and inherited many things from Giancola during his time here but the most important thing has been Giancola’s organizational skills. Coach Agresta explains,
“People don’t understand all the paperwork and studying that goes into leading a football team. I could spend countless amounts of time gathering information from the internet, or simply turn around in this office and ask the smartest guy I know.”
Giancola met Agresta through Agresta’s father who was a part of the coaching staff back when he was just an assistant. The little boy who used to run around the field is now Giancola’s longest tenured assistant, who he looks to for insight as well. A point of emphasis for Giancola was the fact that there is something to be learned no matter what. He said, “I’m not a micromanager. I barely go near the defense. I trust this guy. (Agresta)”
With trust comes loyalty, and nothing says loyalty more than 43 years invested into a program. One of the senior captains Mauro Altamura said, “It’s an honor to play for him. He’s like an encyclopedia.” Another senior captain Jake Weber explained, “his pedigree is amazing. He’s not in your face but he tells you what he expects.” This high praise from two seniors that have the utmost respect for Giancola is reciprocated and looked proudly upon.
In conclusion, Giancola’s proudest accomplishments seem to be more off-the-field related. He appreciates the guys around him in the coaching staff, and enjoys each new class of players that join the program. He’s been able to coach the kids of former players as well, which is always a humbling moment for him. It’s the little things that have made the last 43 years worthwhile and as previously mentioned, for Giancola there’s no end in sight as of now.
To shrink and marginalize Giancola’s 43 years of coaching into a single highlight or play would be unfair. Championships and awards are always something to be proud of. However, being the head of this program for so long is a testament to Giancola’s character. A man who has invested half of his life time into a single team, working day in and day out to improve. That is what he is most proud of. His longevity is more attributed to his leadership skills rather than his ability to draw up a play.