LEVITTOWN – Donald Crawley is hot, and he is tired.
The Harry S. Truman senior is about to head off the field after the first session of what have become routine three-a-days under first-year coach John Iannucci.
“It’s been like hell,” the senior fullback/linebacker said of the Tigers’ preseason camp. “It’s a heat wave – we’re still here practicing and hitting. We just have to suck it up and go hard.”
Crawley isn’t complaining, mind you. He’s simply acknowledging that life is a whole lot different than it used to be at Truman.
“I’ve been here since my freshman year, and this is the hardest training camp I have been in,” he said.
But that’s a good thing, and Crawley admits he was impressed the moment he met Iannucci.
“I’m just proud that we have a coach that cares about winning football and a good coach who wants to bring his winning (ways) to a program that has been down for years,” he said.
Not far away, in a football office that is now his new home, Iannucci leans back in his chair, looking relaxed and comfortable.
Turning struggling programs into winners is what the Tigers’ first-year coach does best.
“I have taken nine head jobs – one lost 47 in a row, one won three games in five years, one had 14 coaches in 30 years, one had three coaches in a calendar year and hadn’t won a championship in 76 years, and one lost 37 in a row,” he said. “It’s all the same.
“The programs I’ve taken over can’t get any worse. The upside is I know where I’m going, and you stay on target for that.”
Iannucci’s record speaks for itself – he has taken six of the eight programs he coached prior to Truman to the state playoffs, and in 1997, his Hackensack team, ranked 16th nationally in USA Today, captured the New Jersey Group IV North State championship.
Iannucci - who also has coached at the college level at William Patterson University - has accumulated more awards than he can count. He has written several publications, and for good measure, one of his references was an assistant coach for the Miami Dolphins.
“We’re very excited to have John,” athletic director George Collins said. “John brings with him a wealth of football experience in many different circumstances, but what we found about him is John is a tremendous educator and an excellent communicator.
“I see him being very integral in not only developing the football program but providing the necessary transition and bridgework for our younger programs and also for our community.”
While Truman doesn’t boast a prolific losing streak – the Tigers won two games in each of the last two years, Iannucci knows he has some serious work to do if he wants the Tigers to elevate their status in the tough SOL National Conference.
There are, he said, no easy answers or fancy gimmicks.
“You trudge along,” Iannucci said. “You go – right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot, and eventually, you get there.
“There’s no secret. Everyone thinks there is one, but it’s just hard work, and it’s really not accepting it.”
Collins couldn’t be happier to have Iannucci on board.
“Our school is so diversified, and I think our kids are victims of real life,” the Truman athletic director said. “He’s a 24-7 guy, and I’m as excited to have him join our physical education department as we are to have him coach because I think obviously they go hand-in-hand.
“He’s got quite a challenge ahead of him. We were completely up front with John. He came in with both eyes wide open, and he welcomed the challenge of coaching in our conference.”
Iannucci wasted little time establishing a new tone on the practice field.
“There’s a totally new playbook,” senior tight end/defensive end Tom Bremme said. “He doesn’t use a lot of people as we did last year, and he just works everybody harder.
“It’s a lot faster. We have to learn everything and then try and teach the younger guys.”
“It’s been tough, a lot tougher than the last couple of years,” senior quarterback Drew Peterson said. “The last couple of years, there was a lot of joking around, not getting a lot done, and this year it’s all football – working hard and trying to win games.
“It’s not fun losing. Our senior class has been together since we were freshmen. We come out here all summer practicing three-a-days – we’re coming out expecting to win games.”
Teammate Todd Hayes echoed those sentiments.
“We have way harder practices,” the senior center/defensive end said. “Shorter breaks, longer practices. Lifting during the off-season – ever since he got here, we have been lifting every single day.”
The new era at Truman began the moment the veteran coach introduced himself to the team.
“It was inspiring,” Hayes said. “He talked about how he knew coaches from the Miami Dolphins. He talked about having college experience and taking teams to the state championship.
“It made me want to play, it made me want to win because he wants to win, he wants to win, he wants to win. He doesn’t want to lose at all, and I don’t want to lose at all. Our whole senior class doesn’t want to lose at all.”
Losing is something these seniors know a whole lot about.
“Every year we expect to win,” senior tackle Matt Schaub said. “We expect to come out and play hard every game.
“It’s tough to face the losses and take the beatings at school – we hear about it, but I see us getting better. We’re getting there. We have a lot more commitment in the weight room, a lot more commitment out of the senior and junior classes with coming out and working hard.”
At Truman, Iannucci is battling a culture of losing. According to Collins, the last time a Bristol Township School won any kind of championship was in 1975. Interestingly, the Truman AD was coach of the soccer team that captured the crown.
“It’s Pavlov’s Dog – it’s the way they’re trained,” Iannucci said. “It goes on for so long it gets accepted.”
The first-year coach, who regularly speaks at coaches clinics along the East Coast, knows that building a program takes time. And patience, lots of patience.
“I talk to so many coaches, and they say, ‘We come listen to you and do exactly what you’re doing, but it doesn’t work,’” he said. “That’s because they give in.
“You just can’t give in. Sometimes you feel like giving in, but you don’t give in. I told them today – everybody gets knocked down. Once you’re on the ground, you have a choice. Either you get up or you stay down. If you give in, you stay down.
“It wears on you. This is my last stop. Nine schools is a lot of stops. When you take on these types of programs, you’re battling so many elements.”
One of those ‘elements’ is numbers. Iannucci was surprised to find that he had just 40 players out for the team.
“I thought more kids wanted to play football the right way,” he said. “You go with the kids you get. It’s unfortunate they don’t let themselves experience it.”
The Tigers’ first-year coach – who has placed over 150 student-athletes in college settings - has been most disappointed to discover so many one-sport athletes.
“You look in USA Today at the top 30 picks in basketball – 90 percent of them are three-sport athletes,” Iannucci said. “I tell these kids all the time – the worst thing that happens if you play more than one sport is you’re going to enjoy more than one sport.”
Although the squad is small, Iannucci’s players have bought into his coaching philosophy.
“It’s tough, but it feels like it’s working,” Hayes said. “Miss two practices, and you’re done. Miss one – you miss the first two scrimmages, and you have to run. He told us we’ll have to keep running to the ends of the earth.”
A few apparently are already running.
“We have a couple that will come back on their 35th birthday, and they’ll still be running for me,” Iannucci said. “A couple will send their first born out to finish their runs for me.”
The veteran coach laughed and then became serious.
“I like coaching football, I like kids,” he said. “I decided I wanted to coach when I was 18.
“Along the way you help a lot of kids with life. You get to do what you like doing, and you help kids along the way. It can’t get better than that.”