A good assistant has to do a lot of the same things the head coach does.
They need to analyze game action and offer suggestions on how their team should adjust. They need to psychoanalyze what type and how much feedback gets the best out of each player. But they also need to be able to play off the head coach and determine his needs.
Jeff Amoroso is well-versed in both roles because he’s a head coach in freshman football and varsity baseball at Pittsford Mendon and longtime assistant in basketball.
“An assistant’s role is usually the good cop,” says Pittsford Sutherland boys basketball head coach John Nally, whom Amoroso assisted for five seasons. “But every once in a while, when you flip it on (your players) it really gets their attention. If they see I’m upset, it’s one thing.”
But if they see coach “Amo” is also mad, then “they know they really must have done something wrong,” Nally says with a laugh.
Amoroso understands how to handle a lot of situations. The 1985 McQuaid graduate is also the next winner of the Coaches Who Care Award, a joint initiative between the Democrat and Chronicle and Compeer Rochester that recognizes area coaches. The 48-year-old East Rochester native has been a physical education teacher at Greece Athena for 26 years and coached at Athena, McQuaid, Victor and Sutherland and Mendon over two-plus decades.
“He’s very constructive every single day … while still having that level of friendship with you,” says Chris Wittig, a senior guard on the Mendon basketball team. “He’s a really funny guy, but he doesn’t let that distract from his coaching. He’s one of my favorite coaches I’ve ever had. He’s genuine. I appreciate everything he’s done for this team and for me as a person.”
Colleagues also say Amoroso uses humor effectively, appropriately and at the right times. That can be difficult for some coaches to determine.
“He’s great at reading people and being able to have a positive influence on really everyone on his team,” says longtime Greece Athena boys basketball coach Jim Johnson, whose staff Amoroso was a part of for 17 seasons. “He could chew a kid’s rear end out and the next day they’d be hugging him.”
Amoroso is in his third year as Mendon’s varsity assistant in basketball. Prior to that, he was a five-year varsity assistant at Sutherland after being Victor’s varsity head coach for five years. Sutherland is where he formed a bond with John Nally and his younger brother, Bob. They were all on the same staff.
“When the (Mendon varsity) job came open this past spring, one of the first phone calls I made was to Jeff to see if he’d be sticking around,” says Bob Nally, 38. “If I could have him as an assistant, I knew I could be successful here.”
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Pittsford athletic director Scott Barker says it’s a luxury to have “somebody of Jeff’s caliber as an assistant.” It’s more rare these days, too, to have a veteran coach at the lower levels, as Amoroso has done as Mendon’s freshman football head coach for five years. This spring will be his fourth as Mendon’s varsity baseball head coach.
“He’s great at taking kids aside and really getting to know them and talking to them about what they need to do to get better,” Bob Nally says.
Amoroso played football, basketball and baseball at McQuaid. He says his father, Joe, who coached girls track and cross country at Greece Arcadia, was a big influence on him. “The most patient man I’ve ever known,” Jeff says. Former Athena coach Don Hagreen had a big impact, too. While at St. Bonaventure, Amoroso did his student teaching under Hagreen.
“That was one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me. When I met Don, everything about his life at that time was enticing to me,” Amoroso recalls. “It looked fun. The way he worked with kids was amazing; another very patient man with tremendous passion for coaching.
“I actually had a goal to be like him. It’s funny, (now) I have a similar family structure that he did. I coach and I still sit in his desk at Athena where I student-taught. I owe a lot to Don and my dad.”
Amoroso says his wife, Sue, deserves credit, too. With him driving from Greece to all parts of Monroe County to coach, he’s not home a lot and he coaches all three seasons. “She knew who she married,” he says, while acknowledging her “support through everything.”
They have two children: Ryan, 19, a sophomore at John Carroll University who played for Amoroso at Mendon, and Jamie, a cross country standout and senior basketball player at Mendon.
When Amoroso coached Athena’s junior-varsity basketball team, he had a player named Jason McElwain, the mildly autistic team manager turned shooting star in 2006. “As crazy as I am as a coach, as passionate as I am is because of Jeff,” says J-Mac, who is now 28. “He’s the best mentor I’ve ever seen. He knows how to get kids to buy in.”
Being an assistant, compared to a head coach, requires fewer overall team management-type of tasks, such as paperwork and involvement with parents, Amoroso says. In terms of games and practice, he says: “I get to look through a different lens. I don’t really feel like I have to manage the entire game and with that it allows me to sit back and see the finer points and offer more suggestions to Bobby.”
Being older and becoming a parent can change perspective, too. Johnson says Amoroso had plenty of “vim and vigor” when they were in their 20s. Amoroso still has plenty of passion and “fire,” Bob Nally says. But it’s tempered.
“When you’re a young coach, especially coming out of college, I think you’re full of it and I don’t mean that in a negative way. You’re full of tons of enthusiasm. You have all these ideas,” Amoroso says. “Maybe you don’t have that feel for what it’s like to have a kid come home and be disappointed or upset about playing time or that they didn’t get in a game.”
Being a parent, “helps change the way you treat other people’s kids,” Amoroso says.
One thing has never changed: Amoroso loves going to practice every day. “I love working with kids,” he says.
About this award
The Coaches Who Care Award recognizes individuals who’ve shown a commitment to players that goes beyond only developing a winning team. Eligible coaches must work at local high schools at the modified, junior-varsity or varsity level. E-mail nominations to JDIVERON@Gannett.com. Please cite specific examples in your nomination.