John Castellano’s credentials on the field, after decades coaching high school football, seven Section 1 titles and two state championships, speak for themselves.
But it was his reputation off the field that had Poughkeepsie City School District administrators and fellow coaches approving of the man who is nominated to become Poughkeepsie High School’s next varsity head coach.
“What he brings to the Poughkeepsie City School District is a real interest in developing men into not just football players but scholar athletes,” Poughkeepsie Athletic Director Matt Cameron said on Friday. “He truly believes in education; student first, football second.”
Castellano, 58, will need to be approved by the Board of Education during a 6 p.m. meeting on Monday, along with other fall coaches listed on an agenda released Friday. Among that list are two assistant varsity football coaches, Charles Spencer Jr., and Matt Featherston. Both are Poughkeepsie graduates and both went on to play Division I football, with Spencer spending a short time in the NFL with the Houston Texans. Junior Varsity coaching positions are to be determined.
Poughkeepsie Board of Education President Ralph Coates said the process of finding a head coach has been “grueling,” but called Castellano “a football legend.”
Our Lady of Lourdes head coach Brian Walsh, who has faced Castellano for years, dating back to Walsh’s time at Brewster and Castellano’s 23 seasons at Nyack, called it “a great hire for Poughkeepsie,” noting the success of his Wing-T offense.
“John’s an experienced coach, he’s a successful coach, he knows what it takes to win,” Walsh said. “His teams are always extremely well-prepared. John was always extremely hard to coach against because of that. He doesn’t leave any stone unturned because of his preparation.”
After resigning from Nyack in 2011, where he won Class A state titles in 2000 and 2003, Castellano spent the last two seasons as the defensive line coach at Don Bosco Prep, a national powerhouse in Ramsey, N.J. He also spent time at Mamaroneck, Gorton, Roosevelt-Yonkers and Iona College.
Poughkeepsie will visit Nyack to face the Indians on Oct. 4.
Cameron, who has maintained a relationship with Castellano since first meeting each other as fellow administrators in 2006, said he initially called the coach seeking advice on possible candidates. It wasn’t long before the two began discussing Castellano himself taking the job. The athletic director noted Castellano was impressed with the new facilities since the coach last faced Poughkeepsie in 2008.
Cameron said Spencer also interviewed for the head coaching position.
“He was a great candidate. But there’s a big difference in coaching experience with Charles and John. … I think Charles and Matt will be able to learn a great deal from John’s experience.”
Coates said there is no immediate plan in place for Spencer to succeed Castellano.
“John, we anticipate John to be here as long as he would like to be here,” Coates said.
Former Beacon coach Bill Castaldi called Castellano “a real strong candidate.”
“He consistently got the most out of the players he coached,” Castaldi said, adding that he sees similarities between Nyack and Poughkeepsie students. “It’s the same type of families, same type of structure. A lot of kids who need extra support.”
Coates said appointing Castellano would be “huge, not only for our football program, but for our school district and our entire community.”
“He spoke very highly about the character of the student athletes over the course of his years down at Nyack,” Coates said. “He considered this an ideal situation for him and his family.”
Both Coates and Cameron credited former head coach Ken Barger for building up that “ideal situation” of high standards on and off the field over the course of his seven seasons at the helm.
“Ken Barger brought a sectional championship to this community (in 2011),” Coates said. “He and his staff need to be commended for the work he and his staff have done. We are grateful for the years Kenny brought to this program.”
Coates could not comment on the circumstances regarding Barger’s removal as head coach, though, nor his staff’s resignation shortly after.
According to Poughkeepsie students, Barger is currently serving a suspension pending an investigation into unauthorized accommodations that were given to some Poughkeepsie students for the New York State Regents exams in January.
Longtime Barger assistant Mike Bianco was originally nominated to take the helm pending an appointment at a July 17 board meeting, but Bianco and his staff resigned prior to the meeting.
In their place, Spencer, Featherston and fellow Poughkeepsie graduate Jerry North stepped in to run informal team workouts.
“Charles made one thing very clear to the district,” Coates said, “and that was he would serve in whatever capacity we needed for him. Whatever we needed, Charles said, ‘I’m here, I want to give back to this community, I want to give back to this school district.’ “
As for on-field strategy, Cameron and Castellano have already begun talks.
“We’ve been in the spread (offense), which is a little bit different but there are similar things you do to teach in the Wing-T style,” Cameron said. “I’m not sure if he has the time right now (before the regular season) for a full-scale change of our offense. He’ll probably slowly get back to that style.”