Section II mourns death of longtime Bishop Maginn football coach

Joe Grasso, who did great things with small numbers in a long run with Bishop Maginn’s football prog
Joe Grasso
Joe Grasso

Joe Grasso, who did great things with small numbers in a long run at the head of Bishop Maginn’s football program, passed away unexpectedly Sunday at the age of 66.

Grasso was the only varsity coach the Golden Griffins had, and while he guided them to nearly 200 wins from 1977 through 2015, including a victory over Bethlehem in the first Section II Class A Super Bowl, he was also an enormous presence in the school and beyond.

“He was Bishop Maginn. He still is Bishop Maginn,” the school’s current athletic director, Joe Zaccardo, said Monday afternoon. “He was more than football. He was a father to students and a mentor to faculty. He guided us.”

Among the original class to be inducted into the Capital Region Football Hall of Fame in 2010, Grasso died Sunday of a heart attack.

The longtime Section II Class A football committee member was serving this season as a varsity assistant at Christian Brothers Academy.

“He was the face of Maginn, forever,” said Schenectady varsity football coach Mark Cerrone, who played for Grasso and graduated from the school in 1996. “He was out in the hall every period. He just cared. You look back and say he was hard on you, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. He demanded accountability. He was an extension of parents. He was an extension of the Catholic community.”

Bishop Maginn released this statement: “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Joe Grasso. Beloved face of Bishop Maginn High School for the past four decades. Mr. Grasso devoted his life, work, heart, and soul to Bishop Maginn. Literally thousands of lives were shaped and changed forever as a result of his wisdom and love.”

“He will definitely be missed,” said Cerrone, who served as Grasso’s junior varsity coach for two years. “Not only by me, but by Section II athletics. Section II athletics has lost a great one.”

As an administrator at Bishop Maginn, Grasso served as athletic director, vice princ­ipal, principal and associate head of school.

“He was non-stop,” Zac­cardo said. “He looked after the safety of the kids. He was one step ahead of everything. If we had a dance, he made sure everything was in place. At a game, he made sure everything ran smooth.”

As a coach at Bishop Maginn, he led his teams to seven Section II championship games and a pair of victories in 1978 and 1983. Both of those teams went 10-0.

“You have names for people,” Cerrone said. “For us, it was just ‘Coach.’ Everyone knew who you were talking about. I’m 38 years old and never called him Joe in his life.”

Grasso began his varsity coaching career at Vincentian Institute in 1975 and took over the Bishop Maginn program in 1977 when Vincentian and Cardinal McCloskey merged to form the school. His Bishop Maginn teams often competed with low player numbers.

“We were always the underdog,” Grasso said last April when he announced that he was stepping away from the football program. “ ‘No one is going to believe in us.’ We wore that as a badge of courage. It was always, ‘We’ve got to keep focused, keep moving in the right direction.’

“One thing I’ll say is we always had the kids well prepared. There was nothing in games that we didn’t see in practice.”

Grasso’s last Super Bowl team in 2008, with a roster of 22, had a 9-1 record. Bishop Maginn opted not to field a team this season when too few players signed up.

“He’d walk in a room, and without saying a word, he owned you,” Cerrone said. “You’d do anything you could to make him proud.”

Grasso’s teams at Vincentian and Bishop Maginn put together a 204-169-6 record. His 204 wins rank fourth in Section II football history.

“We went to schools where they had more buses than we had kids on our roster,” Cerrone, who played on Bishop Maginn’s 1993 and 1994 Super Bowl editions, said. “We did more practices with the JV than any program I know.”

Grasso guided seven straight winning teams from 1978 through 1984, and from 1992 through 2000, eight of those nine forged winning marks. Among his star players were Joe Burke, who is currently the head coach at CBA, and his son Michael, who is working as Troy’s offensive coordinator.

“Look at our record,” Grasso had said. “We’d peak, then it would take us two or three years, and we’d be back up there again.”

Grasso’s last winning season was in 2014, when the Golden Griffins went 7-2, which included win No. 200 against Mohonasen.

“You don’t replace a legend,” Cerrone said.

Grasso was on the sideline Friday when CBA defeated Niskayuna 44-8.

CBA released the following statement on Grasso’s passing: “The CBA community is mourning the passing of a longtime friend, Catholic educator, coach, and role model, Joseph Grasso.”

Dr. James Schlegel, Head of School, stated “The Diocese of Albany and the Capital District community were privileged to have Joe serve the area for many decades. Joe touched the hearts and influenced the lives of countless students throughout the years. Christian Brothers Academy was honored to have him as a coach on our varsity football team this year. Joe was an exceptional individual and will be missed by the entire CBA community, especially the administration, coaches, players and their families at CBA.”

Categories: High School Sports

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