Sacco to coach one more season
HAMMONTON—After more than four decades as head football coach at first St. Joseph High School and now St. Joseph Academy, Paul Sacco said on August 1 that this will be his final season with the program.
“It’s time for me to leave. I’ve been at St. Joe since I was 4 years old and after some discussions with the administration and my family, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to move on to something else,” Sacco said in an interview with The Gazette.
According to Sacco, he was given the option of leaving his position as football coach now or at the end of the season and he chose to leave at the end rather than this week, just a few days before official preseason workouts are scheduled to begin.
“I’ve spent a lot of time the last week or so going back and forth, and honestly, I think I was ready to leave now, but after talking to our players I decided to give it one more year for them,” Sacco said.
St. Joseph Academy Head of School and President Stephen Cappuccio confirmed in an interview with The Gazette that this will be Sacco’s final season at the school.
“We’ve always felt that Coach Sacco should decide when to leave and after several discussions with him, he chose to finish out this season. The choice to leave now or at the end of the season was up to Coach Sacco. We’re glad he decided to stay on because we feel that’s what is best for our student athletes and the program,” Cappuccio said.
Sacco agreed that his top concern was St. Joseph’s players.
“For me, it’s always been about our players and what’s best for them and I didn’t think it would be fair to them or our [coaching] staff, which is mostly new, to leave now,” he said.
According to Sacco and his wife, Peggy, many former and current players reached out to him after hearing he was ready to leave.
“So [I decided], just to coach this season. And there’s only one reason I was not going to leave now. After talking to the kids this weekend, I’ve always put the kids first and as much as this hurts me, I think one last time with this bunch of kids will be good. We talked all weekend that once this thing got out there that I would stick with them or try to stick with them to the end. And they know it’s my farewell and hopefully somebody out there, I can start a new chapter now that they know I’ll be available and we go from there,” Sacco said.
Last month, Sacco decided to retire from his teaching position at St. Joseph and had hoped to continue his coaching career.
“[There were discussions] about my exit plan and that I would leave when I was ready, but it eventually came down to either walking away now or at the end of the season,” Sacco said.
There had been speculation that St. Joseph was looking to replace Sacco, but Cappuccio refuted those rumors.
“We’re very happy to have Paul Sacco as our football coach. When he decided to retire from teaching, we began discussing how he would end his coaching career. We presented some options but left that decision up to him. Coach Sacco has done so much for St. Joseph and Catholic education for 40 years. I respect all that he has done,” Cappuccio said.
Sacco said he had hoped to coach at St. Joseph for at least another three years before possibly retiring, but recent issues have moved up that timetable.
“That was my plan, to coach another three to five years, and I wanted those to be at St. Joe. But the school is moving in a new direction and one that I’m not sure I fit in, and I decided to retire [from teaching]. Then I had to decide about coaching and I wanted to stay. When presented with the choice to leave now or leave at the end of the year, I opted to stay one more season,” Sacco said.
“I committed [Monday] that I’m just staying on for the kids and when the last game is done, that’s it,” Sacco said.
Sacco called the end of his time at St. Joseph “bittersweet,” but is excited for one final season and what might come after it.
“I’m ready to go. We might not be the best team around this year, but I still feel like I can coach and the kids are eager to get going,” he said.
As for the future, the longtime coach is open to any possibilities.
“It might be a time in my life when I can maybe enjoy my life for a little bit. I’m not a world-wide traveler. I can take a deep breath and then maybe go to a place where I’m not the head guy. There’s nothing wrong with being number two or number three. And just continue to coach for at least the next two or three years,” Sacco said.
Looking back at his career, Sacco said he’s proudest of how his players handled the school’s transition from St. Joseph High School to St. Joseph Academy.
“Those kids hung in with us. Trying on a daily basis to get those kids to hang in there, and it went on for maybe four weeks; kids were looking to leave. Every day I called 40 kids. There were 41 kids on the roster, and I said, ‘Give us another week. Give us another week.’ And probably the proudest moment, and I think it says so much about the kids and those people, the football family, is that if they don’t come back, I’m not sure the school would have survived. Forty out of 41 said, ‘I’ll come back.’ And we had the COVID season and played nine games. We had a great year. Through everything I thought that was the ultimate show of what the program meant to the school and what a commitment to the community they had,” Sacco said.
In 40 seasons at St. Joseph High School and St. Joseph Academy combined, Sacco has become the all-time winningest coach in South Jersey history with a 351-71-5 record.
On the afternoon of August 1, St. Joseph Academy released the following statement regarding Coach Paul Sacco:
“The 2022 football season will be a special one for the St. Joseph Academy community. Coach Sacco plans for this 2022 football season to be his last as head coach of the SJA Football team. For nearly half a century, Paul Sacco has led St. Joseph Wildcat football. Since he took over at the helm in 1982, he has gone on to become the winningest coach in South Jersey football history. With over 350 total career wins and 27 state and sectional titles under his belt, he has undoubtedly cemented himself as one of the best coaches in NJ football history.
“St. Joseph Academy is thrilled that Coach Sacco has decided to come back for one more year. Coach Sacco’s contribution to SJA, and high school football is truly legendary. Aside from his impact on the field, Coach Sacco’s best quality is his ability to positively influence the lives of everyone around him. His students, and most importantly his past and present players, can attest to his dedication to St. Joseph Academy. Thanks and gratitude do not adequately represent the sentiment that the entire SJA community has for Coach and Mrs. Sacco and the many lives that they have touched and shaped over the last 40 years. The entire SJA community looks forward to celebrating Coach’s farewell season.
“‘Coach Sacco is the embodiment of St. Joseph Academy’s mission of Faith, Family, and Future. Coach Sacco’s legacy will endure the test of time for generations to come, and I doubt no one will surpass his win total. As we celebrate Coach Sacco’s farewell season, we are also excited for the future as SJA evolves and advances into an institution that lives its mission,’” Cappuccio said in the release.