By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports
Third in a series
He’s been selling leotards, school uniforms and cheerleading supplies for 40 years, but make no mistake about it – Anthony Catanese still considers himself a football coach.
“I don’t know that you ever wean yourself from coaching,” he says, “But time makes it easier.”
Catanese hasn’t coached a game since 1981 in the last season of Jesuit football before the school changed its name to Loyola.
But he has a coaching accomplishment that seems even more amazing with the passing of time — Catanese coached a state championship team when he was 27 years old.
And just like a coach, when you ask him if he ever stops to think how remarkable that is, he’s quick to say “Yeah, I think about it … but what I think about more is how many I could have won.”
After four years as an assistant coach, he became the Flyers’ head coach in 1975 and a year later, coached Jesuit to the state championship and a 14-0 record.
At an age in which some are trying to figure out what to do with their lives, Catanese had already reached the top of his profession.
The ’76 state title started a run of even-numbered years in which he believes the Flyers could have added to the trophy case. In 1978, the Flyers got to the semifinals, but had to play without their best running back (Scott Pendleton) and top defensive player (linebacker Drew Dossett, one of the top college recruits in the country).
In 1980, the Flyers were ranked No. 1 in Class AAA at midseason, but lost a game when the kicker slipped on an extra point and then saw the season evaporate with injury after injury. “We were unstoppable on offense that year,” he says.
He coached one more year and knew he had a great team coming back again in 1982. But when his father-in-law suffered a stroke, he made the decision to get out of coaching and take over the family business at Shreveport Gymnastic Supply. “I didn’t really want to leave,” Catanese says. “I had made the decision to get out but I really wanted to coach that team. I thought we had a shot.”
These days, a 33-year-old head football coach is considered young. Anthony Catanese was done at 33.
Or was he?
During his time at Jesuit, Catanese was known as such an outstanding defensive coach (the ’76 team had nine shutouts) that he had been offered three college assistant coaching positions, including Southern Cal. He turned them all down.
But in the late 1980s, Pat Collins was one of two candidates for the Tulane head coaching position. Collins was coming off a Division 1-AA national championship as head coach of Northeast Louisiana (now UL-Monroe).
“I was missing coaching pretty badly,” Catanese remembers. “He called and said, ‘If I get this job, will you come?’ And I said I would. I missed it that much.
“But he didn’t get (the Tulane job) and I thank the Lord to this day,” he adds. “But, yes, I would have gone back in.”
Since that point, he says hasn’t missed coaching, but he does miss being a coach. There’s a difference.
“What you don’t miss – and this was self-inflicted – are the long hours,” he says. “Of course you miss the kids and a camaraderie with them and the coaches. There’s nothing like it. There’s nothing that compares to football in terms of friendships and closeness. It’s unparalleled.”
Catanese was part of the staff of “Four Tonys” at Jesuit – head coach Tony Sardisco and assistants Tony Rinaudo, Tony Papa and Catanese – that came to the school in 1971 (all were former players). But Catanese quickly took to the defensive side of the ball.
He had played defensive tackle at Jesuit for coach C.O. Brocato in a scheme that was known as the Salamander Six.
“I picked up a lot of different things along the way, but a lot of it was self-learned,” Catanese says. “It started from what we ran when I was playing. Penn State ran what they called a split-4 so I got ideas from that. (Former Woodlawn and Captain Shreve coach) Lee Hedges did the same thing, but he’d back off his outside linebackers, so I got a little bit from him. And then I just did a lot on my own in terms of numbering systems and stunt packages.”
It was the chess match of coaching that always intrigued Catanese and part of what he misses. And he will admit when the calendar turns to August, he still takes notice.
“August 15, because that’s when we started when I played,” he says. “And August 12, because that’s when we started when we coached. I still get those butterflies (in the stomach) when those dates comes around.”
Contact J.J. at JohnJamesMarshall@yahoo.com