How many losses are too many?
Though common in the National Football League, it’s unusual for a high school to get a new coach in the middle of a season. But already this fall, two schools in the region with proud football traditions have changed their head coaches.
Medford was the first to take the action, relieving Rico Dello Iacono of his duties after his team went 0-3 to start the season. Peabody followed by parting ways with Scott Wlasuk after an 0-5 start.
Dello Iacono, in his fourth season at Medford, had posted a combined record of 6-27 with the Mustangs, going 5-5, 0-10, and 1-9 prior to this year. He was replaced on an interim basis by assistant coach Jason Nascimento, who has lost his first three games at the helm.
“Any time we part ways with a coach it’s difficult,” said Medford athletic director Bob Maloney. “And Rico is a great person. We want a more competitive product on Friday nights. We don’t expect to go undefeated, but if we’re going to lose games, we want to be competitive. We don’t want to be losing 35-0 or 28-0 every night.
“The feeling was we could give one of the assistant coaches the keys to the car, so to speak, for eight weeks and see if there’s any change and then we’ll reevaluate at the end of the year.”
Under Dello Iacono, the Mustangs were outscored, 90-7, in their first three games this season, and shut out twice. Under Nascimento, they’ve lost by scores of 28-7, 21-14, and 22-16. Things could get ugly when Medford hosts powerhouse Everett (6-1) Friday night on the new turf surface at Hormel Stadium, which hasn’t sparked any victories.
For those who were there for the glory days and go by the motto “Once a Mustang, always a Mustang,” this hasn’t been easy to watch.
“It’s very difficult watching as a former coach, former AD,” said Francis “Bud” Kelley, who was an assistant coach in Medford from 1969 to 1982 before succeeding Armand Caraviello. The Mustangs were a Greater Boston League power during Caraviello’s final five years, going 34-2-1 and winning their only Super Bowl appearance in 1978, the Division 1 Eastern Mass. title over Walpole, 29-8.
“You feel bad for the kids and you feel bad for the coaching staff,” said Kelley, who was head coach in Medford until 1994, when he became the AD until he retired in 2001. “It’s tough. Everything has changed — the city has changed, the geography, demographics. A lot of kids are never exposed to football at the middle school. It’s hard and it’s going to take a while.”
“It’s fallen on hard times, obviously,” said Bob Maiocco, a former cocaptain who graduated in 1966 and is now president of the Medford City Council.
“My support is with the football program and all the student-athletes at Medford High School, but unfortunately changes have to be made, I think. [But] I’m not the athletic director. “
Several people pointed to one particular area to help turn the program around, which has worked in Everett and several other communities.
“The program’s at ground zero and we need to start building it up,” Maloney said. “We’re going to get to the youth. We’re going to get to the Pop Warner program and the Junior Mustang program and make relationships with them. And just like all the other coaches do it, they’ve built a solid youth program and reaped the benefits of those kids coming to the high school.”
“I think that’s critical, in my opinion,” Maiocco said. “I’m not a coach, but I’ll just point to the more successful programs surrounding Medford and they have terrific feeder programs. . . . Young players playing all the time, that’s how they do it. That’s how they build their program up and they feed them into the public school system.”
With four games left this season, including the 125th Thanksgiving Day game against Malden, the current Mustangs are just concentrating on getting better.
“We didn’t get off to the start we wished or we thought we were going to get off to,” said Nascimento, who played defensive back at Tufts from 2004 to ’07 and was the special teams coach at Everett while Dello Iacono was defensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide.
“It’s been real difficult,” Nascimento said. “It’s never easy to start off this way, and then throw in the whole coaching change, that's never easy and that’s not going to help the situation.
“But the kids have done a real good job of just staying together and just saying we want to get better week to week. And the coaching staff has done a great job with that as well, just saying all we have right now is each other, and we’re just looking week to week to get better.”
The Medford players were shaken by the coaching change, but have adjusted.
“Just shocked and surprised because no one was really expecting it,” said Nathan Clement, a senior captain. “It was tough. But, in the end, we have to stick together and keep battling. The goal was just to win games and leave the program better for the next class.”
Some players have noticed a change in the team since the coaching switch.
“I would say there’s definitely a different attitude,” said Lucas Mazzotti, a senior captain. “It was really tough to deal with but everybody, to move forward, had to stay positive, and especially in the [21-14 loss to Martha’s Vineyard Oct. 5] I think we played really well. We’re just all trying to get better.”
While wins are important, there are intangibles that also can be gained through the adversity. That lesson has not been lost.
“Especially considering how many times we’ve lost in previous years,” said Mazzotti, “it’s been a very character-building experience being on the Medford High football team.
“Like family. I’ve gotten to be so close to the guys over the last four years. It’s definitely going to be something I look back at fondly. It’s an experience that brought me close to a group of people.”
But these players also would like this team to be the one that engineers the start of a resurgence.
“I would like our team to be remembered [as the team that] got things started and got the engine going and let it happen for the Medford teams in the future,” said Clement.
“I won’t forget this team. I’ll always remember this team. It’s probably the best memories I’ll have for the rest of my life. It’s just a brotherhood and a family-like sense. We’re with each other all the time, going through all these different types of emotions.”