Joe Read, who helped keep the struggling Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School football program alive, stepped down as the team’s coach on Tuesday.
Read, who had a 10-23 record in four years with the Monarchs, said his decision was “extremely” tough and he had regrets. “You got to look at yourself and say, ‘Are you getting the job done?’ ” he said. “It’s a sad day for me because I really did love that job.”
Read, 53, who graduated from the Riverhead Catholic school in 1975, guided the Monarchs to their first playoff appearance in 16 years in 2008. Last season McGann-Mercy was hit by injuries it couldn’t afford and went 2-6 in Suffolk County Division IV. In each of the past four years under Read, the Monarchs finished higher in the standings than they were seeded in preseason coaches polls.
“I thought Joe did a good job,” Bishop McGann-Mercy Athletic Director Paula Nickerson said. “He definitely bleeds the green and gold, and I like that about Joe a lot.”
Nickerson said she has posted the opening for the position and is accepting applications through Jan. 21. She said she would like to have a new coach in place by early February. Asked if she preferred to hire from within or outside the school, Nickerson replied that she is “looking for the best person.” She said she would like to form a committee including herself, parents, and perhaps some players and students, to be involved in the selection process.
An unforeseen twist of events brought Read, a Shelter Island resident, to the Monarchs. He had been an assistant coach at several schools, including Mercy. After Bryan Schaumloffel resigned as the Monarchs’ coach in 2007, Mike Agostino was hired to replace him. But Agostino left the team before the first preseason practice in order to accept a guidance counselor position at William Floyd High School. That paved the way for Read, who was to be one of Agostino’s assistants, to take on his first varsity football head coaching job. “I am the oldest rookie,” he joked during the 2007 preseason.
Read relished the prospect of coaching his alma matter. “I had the passion to coach at Mercy and I loved it,” he said. “When I got the job, I was thinking, I can do this forever. But then things change, you don’t win.”
Numbers were against Read and his Monarchs. By his count, in his time as coach, the Monarchs never had more than 18 true varsity players to work with, and that 2008 team had only 13. “There are no coaching books for coaching 13 kids,” Read said. “I’m going to write one.”
Because of the lack of depth, Read said he had three rules for his players: show up for practices on time, call in advance if you can’t make a practice, and don’t get hurt.
Over the last few years McGann-Mercy didn’t have a junior high school team to develop young players. Last year’s junior varsity team played only four of six scheduled games because it did not have enough players after some players were called up for varsity duty.
“The numbers have not been good,” Nickerson said. “It’s amazing the program even survived here. It’s a miracle.”
Read’s time was marked by an infectious sense of humor, great energy and enthusiasm (at times he appeared even more pumped up for games than some of his players) and a zest for creative, aggressive offense, full of trick plays. Opponents had grown accustomed to expecting the unexpected from Read’s play calling. Read said much of that creativity was out of necessity, with the Monarchs often lacking the depth and size to match their opponents.
Read has not ruled returning to the football sidelines. Football has been a big part of his life. His father, Henry, was a legendary coach for defunct Seton Hall High School in Patchogue. Joe Read figures he has spent all but five of his years in the fall as a football player, coach or accompanying his father on the sideline during games.
“I love football,” he said. “I think it’s going to be really hard in the fall. It’s like a farmer when it’s time to harvest.”