BURNT HILLS - Whether Scotia-Glenville had just won a Section II football championship or wrapped up a sub-.500 season, Tony DiCocco would always gather his Tartans in the locker room afterward and impart the same message.
"There are going to be hurdles. Tough roads. Mountains," said DiCocco, recalling some of the final words he spoke to 33 varsity teams. "I'd tell them, 'We've gone through these things on the field, and use them when you move on. Translate it to life. In college, on the job, with your families.'"
DiCocco found out early in his coaching career that football and all it entails can be a powerful teaching tool, and he used it to great effect in a long run that's led to the Capital Region Football Hall of Fame. The retired Burnt Hills resident and Linton High School graduate will fittingly be enshrined July 29 in the hall's service to football category.
"There are right ways and wrong ways," DiCocco, who guided the Scotia-Glenville varsity from 1973 through 2005, said. "We wanted to emphasize the right way to do it and instill values into their makeup. We pushed sportsmanship and loyalty,. working hard and goal setting, discipline and accountability."
For the Tartans for so long, it was follow the leader.
"He always did things the right way and demanded the same from his teams," David Murray, a sophomore quarterback on DiCocco's first S-G team, said. "Coach was a classy person who expected his teams to play with class. He was a man of integrity who always did what he said he was going to do. He never made excuses for losses and taught all of his players about accountability. He taught us how to be good teammates and family members,.and about loyalty and how to get along with people of different race, religion, political views and socio-economic backgrounds. He talked about being good citizens when we were off the field. Coach DiCocco is one of those very special people that makes everyone around him better and I can assure you hundreds of teenage boys became better, more productive members of society because they were coached by him."
DiCocco was big on the bounce-back theme, and though his Tartans won 150 games and three Section II Class B titles, they had plenty of opportunities to do that and prepared for such occasions.
"We used to practice what we called 'sudden change,'" DiCocco said. "You've got the ball and you turn it over. How are you going to react in that moment? In life how are you going to react? That's how we worked. You face adversity and you try to turn it around."
DiCocco turned to coaching in 1971 as an assistant at Springfield College after a knee injury ended his playing career there. He later served as a graduate assistant coach at the University at Albany while working on his master's degree.
"I look back on it, and it was worth all the hours. The months of preparation. Weekends," DiCocco, a married father of two, said. "I have no regrets. It was the career choice I wanted and over the years it just got better. I have so many great memories of players and people I coached with and against. I had a great career."
Murray remembers when it began at Scotia-Glenville.
"I was a rising high school sophomore sitting in coach D's first team meeting, listening to his plan and vision for Scotia football, and it was easy to see that the football fortunes at Scotia were about to change," Murray, the head football coach at Hamilton College, said. "I can't remember how long that meeting lasted, maybe 45 minutes or so, but I do remember that every player in that room knew that we were about to be coached by someone very special for the rest of our football careers. What we didn't realize at that time is that being coached by this man would have a positive impact on us for the rest of our lives."
On the field 18 of DiCocco's 33 teams won more games than they lost, and his six teams from 1991-96 each logged a winning record. Scotia-Glenville made 12 playoff appearances under DiCocco, who was inducted into the Scotia-Glenville Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001, and, in 2014, received the Service to Football Award from the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.
"You try to maintain a steady course," said the 36-year physical education teacher at Scotia-Glenville. "You emphasize hard work and determination, make sure the kids are coached. If you do that you'll have more positive years than not so positive years."
Scotia-Glenville's 1985 edition went 10-0 in winning the last of three area Class B championships under DiCocco, and finished the season ranked No. 4 among the state's small schools. The Tartans also claimed area titles in 1979 and 1982, and lost in Section II Super Bowls in 1991, 1992 and 1993.
"You catch that core group with two or three impact players and surround them with kids that want to work hard," DiCocco said. "You only need 11."
Fullback Mike Rhodes and quarterback Shaun Fyvie were key players on the 1985 team that fell behind early and trailed Hudson 14-12 in the Super Bowl. Rhodes produced the go-ahead touchdown in the final minutes, and Fyvie threw for a score and ran for one earlier on, in a 20-14 victory that capped the Tartans' only unbeaten campaign.
"I had some great kids over the years," DiCocco said.
DiCocco served as a modified football coach at Scotia-Glenville from 2009-11, and some of the players he worked with including star quarterback Dan Zeglen later helped the Tartans' varsity forge three consecutive 6-3 seasons.
"I have never met an individual that has more passion for the game of football than coach DiCocco," Murray said. "He loved everything about the game. The Xs and Os, the weekly preparation, the practices, the games and perhaps more than anything, the relationships he had with his players."
The 2017 Capital Region Football Hall of Fame class will also include former Glens Falls coach Paul Bricoccoli, who, like DiCocco, was a standout player at Linton High School. DiCocco, a running back, graduated from the school in 1965 before a three-year military stint. Bricoccoli, a quarterback, graduated from Linton in 1962 and played at the University of Rhode Island.
"I've known him since Little League. We lived a couple of blocks apart on Avenue B in Schenectady," said DiCocco, whose Tartans lost to Bricoccoli's Indians 14-8 in the 1993 Super Bowl. "I couldn't be happier for him. He had a great career at Glens Falls."
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Jim Schiltz at 395-3143, [email protected] or @jim_schiltz on Twitter.