Rich Fazzi brought an extensive basketball career when he took over as St. John Paul II’s athletic director for the 2019-20 school year. He’d coached men’s basketball at Newbury College and Pine Manor College in Brookline, as well as Dean College in Franklin, and as a player had started for three years at Becker College in Worcester and earned three varsity letters at Paul VI High School in New Jersey.
Stepping away from the court to run the Lions’ athletic department wasn’t easy.
“The year off, it was different not having basketball,” Fazzi said. “It was weird not being part of a team.”
Fazzi will get to return to his roots when the 2020-21 winter season gets underway in December. The school announced recently that Fazzi will be the Lions’ next head boys basketball coach.
He takes over for Paul Soucy, who coached the team to a 4-14 record last winter before retiring. Fazzi helped out on that team while still working as AD.
“I’m pretty excited to coach again,” Fazzi said. “I wanted to do it because the kids were so great, and they were eager to learn.”
Fazzi has had success at all three of his coaching positions. In his second year at Newbury, Fazzi led the Nighthawks to its first-ever appearance in the New England Collegiate Conference championship game, and he went 42-31 over three seasons as Pine Manor’s first-ever coach, twice leading his teams to the Eastern College Athletic Conference Tournament.
His 2016-17 Pine Manor team was ranked in the top 10 in the nation in nine statistical categories. Fazzi was also twice named District Two Coach of the Year with Dean College, and his 2013-14 team won National Junior College Athletic Association regional and district titles before advancing to the NJCAA National Tournament for the first time in program history.
“If you’re invested in the program, the kids will be invested into the program, and then that will show on the court,” Fazzi said. “Everything is planned out. Having that culture, having the plan, having the structure, that’s why I was successful at multiple places.”
Fazzi said he hopes to be able to successfully juggle both positions for the foreseeable future, especially given that the school fields its fewest total teams in the winter.
“Time management is a big thing,” said Fazzi, who was also an assistant AD at Pine Manor for three years. “During the season, you can’t procrastinate and put things off. You have to really focus on your main duties.”
Fazzi follows a pattern of Lions ADs also coaching teams. Mark Santos joined JPII as a head baseball coach before taking over as AD, holding both roles for two years, and prior to Santos was John Muldoon, a dual AD,and head football coach.
“It’s definitely a little bit more intense and time-consuming,” Santos said. “The real dilemma and challenge becomes in-season. The biggest drawback is not being able to get to all the other events because your sport takes so much time.”
There are plenty of other examples of local ADs simultaneously coaching a team. Bourne AD Scott Ashworth also runs his boys basketball program, while Mashpee AD Matt Triveri is the head football coach and Nantucket AD Chris Maury coaches varsity softball.
Barnstable AD Scott Thomas previously coached the Red Raiders boys soccer team, and former Dennis-Yarmouth AD Paul Funk doubled as the head football coach before moving to principal for the 2019-20 school year.
The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent end of the school year means Fazzi hasn’t been able to meet his potential basketball players face to face. He said he’s already had a video conference with them, and he’s been able to send out offseason workouts to help them train on their own.
“Our fall sports have done some on-field conditioning under the new (coronavirus) guidelines,” Fazzi said. “We can’t do anything inside, so hopefully the basketball team will get involved with that. But then hopefully the guidelines change, and the weight room will be opened up and the gym will be opened up.”
Soucy also coached boys soccer in the fall, so his retirement still leaves Fazzi with a coaching opening to fill. Fazzi said the search process is underway for a new soccer coach.