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Lyndhurst head coach Rich Tuero reflects on coaching journey

The son of Cuban immigrants, Rich Tuero understood the meaning of coming from humble beginnings. He had a father (Richard Tuero Sr.) that came to America at the young age of 12 years old by himself, no parents’ and money. His mother, Maria, came to the states at the age of nine years old with her family.

Tuero’s parents’ eventually met here in America and raised Tuero and his brother Eddy in New Jersey. “My parents’ raised us to the best of their ability,” said Tuero. “My father owned Richie’s Radiators in Union City, he is the strongest man I know and came to America at 12 by himself, and my Mom stayed at home with us.”

While attending Roosevelt School, Tuero found an outlet in sports, playing baseball and basketball. The next stop for Tuero was Lyndhurst High School, where he became a three-sport athlete in football, baseball and wrestling. However, it was football that became a passion for Tuero while playing for coach James Chizzie Vuono.

“I knew football was my sport from day one,” Tuero said. “I learned how to play football in high school. My Dad wanted me to be a baseball star, baseball is so big in Cuba.”

Understanding the significance of an education as well, Tuero pointed to two people that played a pivotal role in his success at Lyndhurst High. “Mr. Snyder, my English and Drama teacher taught me so much and Toe Shoebridge, he was my teacher and coach,” said Tuero.

After making the decision to attend Montclair State University, Tuero thrived on the gridiron. He started for three years at right guard, being alongside his teammates in Mike Farrington, Mike Goff, Ryan Lynch and playing for legendary football coach Rick Giancola. Academically, Tuero majored in Physical Education.

“Coach Giancola was the offensive line coach so I had the pleasure to learn from him which helped me a lot,” Tuero remarked. “To be a starter as a sophomore, to get to travel the East Coast, play football which is the greatest sport and go to college and get my degree on Physical Education. Being a student-athlete is a major commitment, if you want to play football you better be committed to what you do and if you are not might as well as quit.”

“Every practice is scheduled around class, you have to be disciplined so it was no excuse I missed class or practice. You are all either in or out and when you are a college athlete it only helps you and that was a huge component of me graduating from college. A great school, beautiful campus and great support system. Rob Chesney who was the soccer coach and now the athletic director, Mr. Sullivan and Dr. Gilbert also supported and helped me in my years at the school. Coach Giancola is a legend, winningest coach in Division 3 history, a beautiful human being and so knowledgeable of the game. I love Montclair State and I am a Red Hawk for life.”

When it came to graduating from Montclair State, Tuero did not walk in the graduation ceremony due to a very special occasion as he was on his honeymoon with his wife Koriann who he met back in high school. “I met my wife in high school, she is my high school sweetheart and we have been together since 2001,” said Tuero. “She went to St. Mary’s but we met in school and then went to Montclair State. Graduating from college was a big deal for my parents, I’m on the first of my name to graduate from college and my parents being Cuban. We came here with nothing and I never though it would happen.”

A couple months after graduation, Tuero ended up volunteering at Lyndhurst High School before Giancola informed him of an opening at Clifton High School working for Ron Anello. The current head coach at Lyndhurst High School, Joe Castagnetti told Tuero to take the job also. After coaching at Clifton for one year, Tuero returned to Lyndhurst as an assistant coach under the new head coach Scott Rubinetti. The revolving doors kept spinning with Rubinetti leaving and Castagnetti back in the saddle. After two years, Castagnetti retired and a dream came true for Tuero in being hired as the new head coach at Lyndhurst.

“I learned so much in those years under Scott Rubinetti, Joe Castagnetti and Ron Anello,” Tuero explained. “The administration is just awesome, Laura Vuono, our principal, her father James Chizzie Vuono was my head coach and 100 percent behind me. Jeff Radson our athletic director, he got the job with me in the same board meeting and I have known Jeff my whole life. Jeff coached with me in high school and he is the best and always behind me. Our superintendent Anthony Grieco is a very good friend and a huge supporter. He is always texting and saying whatever you need.”

The first season for Tuero got off to a rocky start with the team registering a 1-9 record. Despite the results on the field, Tuero learned quite a bit about himself and his coaching style. “I was trying to be everyone else, making everyone happy around me, that supported me and got me the job,” he said. “That is where I learned the most about the first year when we were the worst. At that moment I said Holy Man, you have to be you, you got the job and say to get to do the job the way you were going to do it and that’s where everything changed and we only went up from there.”

“The biggest adjustment I made as a coach is when I said I’m going to be me, probably the biggest switch I think. I’m more of a lover than screamer and not that I can’t get to that point but I care about my kids and my goal is to make sure I care about them in every single way including football obviously but so more in life and I think that has spoken volumes in where we are now. I’m not the threatening guy, not a yeller and don’t want my players to be scared of me but they know they have to respect me and follow the rules and fall in line or they are out and that’s the simple key about it. I say hey listen man, I love you but the facts you are not getting it done.”

In 2015 the Golden Bears improved to 4-6 followed by a winning season in 2016 going 5-4-1. “The kids got to know my style more and I changed my ways and coached the way I wanted to coach and only difference,” Tuero said. “Now it’s a program, we built on that and after that first year. I really spent a lot more time figuring out what I wanted to do and now this could go and what I wanted the culture to be.”

The major contributor to the success of the program in the early years for Tuero turned out to be Pete Guerriero who rushed for 3, 813 yards and scored 36 touchdowns in his career. “Pete Guerriero in my first year transferred in and one of the greatest things to happen to me as well,” Tuero recalled. “We were not the greatest team in 2015 with Pete at 4-6 but he helped me in every sense that we won games and built on every single game whether we won or lost. We made the playoffs my second year, his senior season and for that was an awesome accolade to achieve with him. Pete and I are very close, we talk every day and I’m very close with his mother and she is friends’ with my wife.”

Guerriero went on to have a stellar career at Monmouth University where he rushed for almost 4,000 yards, tallied 35 touchdowns nd one of the four finalists for the Walter Payton Award that is for the FCS’s top offensive player. “So proud of Petey, he was always told he couldn’t do it and always been the conversation him and I have been having and the word always used with Petey is believe, and he lives by it literally and I believe in so much him. If he is drafted or not he is going to get signed without a doubt in my mind. The pride I have in him is unbelievable and awesome. Petey is so selfless, we talk all the time, he is always thanking me and just an awesome kid and we have an awesome bond.”

After a 5-4 record in 2017, Lyndhurst broke through the pack in 2018 going 9-2. Benefiting from another superb running back in Piotr Partyla the Golden Bears reaching the North 2, Group 2 sectional title game against Rutherford. Despite losing 32-14 to the Bulldogs, Tuero gained a lot of confidence from the experience.

“We had no doubt we were going back to the state sectional final this year and the goal was to win it,” Tuero said. “From day one and as soon as we lost to Rutherford that was literally the conversation. We were two quarters away, we will be back here and finish the job. Isaiah Delacruz broke his leg, just unlucky and Rutherford dominated us in the second half. A lot of a great players, a senior class and big contributors in Jeff Grasso, Ben Franchino, Paul Cimicata, Brian Podolski and Jay Lauria.”

Off to a 3-0 start in the 2019 season including a dramatic 21-20 win over Pompton Lakes in Week 3 meant so much more that a victory as Tuero was selected as the Lou Rettino High School Coach of the Week by the New York Giants and Gatorade. “A die hard Giants fan and it was cool,” said Tuero. “I remember growing up and seeing that and blessed enough to get that one day. It was surreal, I had a moment with my wife and she knew it too how big it was of an honor.”

“The Pompton Lakes game showed these kids it would be a special year because a lot of people had doubts in that game and it was scary. I’m not going to lie, we thought they had our number and the kids figured it out and got it done. They executed the job and one of the craziest games I have been a part in my life. An unbelievable feeling to overcome in that victory and showed these kids we have seen adversity and we can overcome it.”

Reeling off six in a row to reach the NJIC Playoffs, Lyndhurst defeated Waldwick/Midland Park 33-7 in the semifinals. Playing on their home field in the championship game, the Golden Bears crushed Park Ridge 34-12 for their first NJIC title and Partyla rushing for over 300 yards and five touchdowns.

“We had to beat a tough Waldwick team in the first round and we beat up Park Ridge who were the North 1, Group 1 champions,” Tuero said. “That was just a catapult for us and helped us so much. Winning the NJIC Championship was unbelievable and only Rutherford and (Hasbrouck) Heights had the other wins and we knew we were with a great group of teams’ like that who win every year. We wanted to win the NJIC but the real goal was to win the state sectional.”

Securing home field advantage in the state playoffs, Lyndhurst opened up with a 47-0 demolition of Pascack Hills, next up a tough opponent in Mahwah in the semifinals but the Golden Bears managed to pull out a 28-14 victory thus setting up a showdown vs. Parsippany in the North 1, Group 2 state sectional championship game. Partyla ended up rushing for 135 yards and two touchdowns as Lyndhurst defeated Parsippany 26-7 and winning first sectional title in 36 years.

“In the semifinals against Mahwah, a tough game, Kyle Teel was unbelievable, Piotr got hurt and tore a ligament in his ankle but it was an awesome game and showed everybody we were more than Piotr and we were a team,” Tuero said. “These guys came together and rallied around each other even with Piotr going down. The other thing we were in a sectional final for a second year in a row. Now we have to finish the job with 26 years. I was very close with these kids, seeing them grow up and playing since 3rd and 4th grade.”

“This past season meant everything, I have been a Lyndhurst Golden Bear my whole life and born a year after they won the last state championship. Something I always heard about the 83’ team and once I got the job I said we’re going to bring it back here and achieve that goal. As a town and group it was just awesome and dream come true.”

“Joe Castagnetti, my defensive coordinator, my offensive line coach and also former head coach when I played at Lyndhurst and who I’m a very close to and how much a ring meant to him. In the Parsippany game with a minute and half left in the fourth quarter, he comes up behind me and grabs me and says we’re state champions and an amazing moment. My offensive coordinator Patty Auteri who was a former player at St. Joe’s hugged me at that moment and realized Holy Cow we really did do it and there was Joe Vastola on Special Teams. I coached Danny Kesack, the quarterback coach now and Joe Catena, my freshman coach.”

“The town was rocking, a dream come true in my hometown, a Golden Bear through and through from the beginning. A job I love, I love these kids and love Lyndhurst. I live on Post Avenue but Lyndhurst is my home. At Christmas there is a party for alumni and all these Lyndhurst athletes and these guys from the 60’s, 70’s and all the decades coming up to me and thanking me and saying Richie you gave us something to do again. We were at the games together and it was awesome. They were saying how much you did for the town and it was cool walking out and seeing all these people and I got emotional.”

Despite getting trounced 41-0 by Verona in the  North Group 2 Regional Championship Game at Met Life Stadium did not diminish the accomplishments that the Golden Bears achieved in the 2019 season and finishing up with an 11-1 record. For Tuero it was the honor of playing at Met Life Stadium and Lyndhurst representing their community.

“To be completely honest it was awesome, we didn’t win the game, we wanted to win the game but knew it was going to be tough,” Tuero said. “Verona was a tremendous team, Piotr was hurt and knew we didn’t have him. He is a very good player, both offensively and defensively and our guys were banged up. Piotr was huge and a big part of our team all year and clearly with all the stats he had and state leading rusher. We went on a run and not making any excuses. A good team that obviously smoked us.”

“Seeing all the people with the Lyndhurst jackets was awesome and everything was great except we lost the game and stunk but it was a beautiful moment. We spent the whole year wanting to win a state sectional championship game and expecting to win at Met Life and that was a fact.”

“This past senior class, 26 of them and were big contributors. Piotr Partyla (4,081 rushing yards, 57 touchdowns) is one of the greatest kids I have ever been around and deserves every accolade he gets, he works harder if not as any other guy I have ever coached and cares about the game as much as any kid I have coached. He is just like another former legend at Lyndhurst in Pete Guerriero who is hoping to get drafted on Thursday. The kid is unbelievable, a pleasure to coach and I’m going to miss him like crazy. Always thanking his (offensive) line, coaches and it was never about him. He wanted to do whatever it took to win this game and ring. It meant so much to that kids and his family and I can’t say enough good things about him.”

“The defense was a killer and least spoken about. Anthony Lembo, just a great kid and took on his role and had one thing to do and that was win and all about team. Ismail Ay, our linebacker had a tremendous year, set the tackle record in a season of Lyndhurst history, unbelievable player and work ethic. He worked his butt of to get to that point and not just like it happened. James Blake at the nose guard position was a beast, causing fumbles and missed snaps all the time. Isaiah Delacruz at defensive back and Chad Rodriguez at safety.”

“Justin Gerena as outside (linebacker), an awesome player and made big plays for us. Daizae Tucker had a huge pick against Mahwah to seal it. Michael Renta who transferred in from Becton and rarely played defense and came in and did not come off the field. He made so many big plays, tackles for losses and sacks and First-Team All-League Player. An unbelievable group of 11 senior players on defense for us.”

Keeping the memories fresh of winning a state championship alive, Tuero recently went above and beyond the call of duty not only delivering 88 championship rings but capturing the moments of the reaction to receiving the rings on video that caught the attention of print and broadcast outlets in the tri-state area and went viral on social media. “I really did not expect it to be big as it is,” Tuero said. “It took eight hours, it was awesome, people loved it and anything to make people happy. I got to capture every single kid’s reaction and feelings. A blessing and happy putting together the video and I got to re-live and watch it. Those kids mean the world to me.”

Most important to Tuero is what the game of football has meant to him after completing his 6th season as the head coach at Lyndhurst High School and the support he has received from his family.

“Football represents family and it brings everyone together including the school,” Tuero said. “It’s just not the football team out there, the cheerleaders, color guard, band, alumni and fans coming out together. There are so many things in football that teach you about life, adversity, tough times and how you are going to react when you get knocked down. The comradery and working together. My brother Eddy who went to Lyndhurst High School and was on the 2008 baseball team that won a state championship then moved on to be a union electrician is on the staff and helps out as assistant to me and helps out with the wide receivers. My Dad is on sidelines with me every game and my Mom comes to almost every game she can.”

“There is no better feeling than Friday Night Lights, working your butt off all week behind closed doors, doing all that film work with coaches, going back and forth figuring out ideas and teaching the kids. When it comes to fruition on game day and you get to celebrate with your brothers. There is nothing better and then start it over the next day and a beautiful thing. You got to be crazy to coach and have to love the game more than anything in the world. So many moments that popped into my head this year, we pulled it together and threw it on the wall and said it was going to work and boom it worked.”

“I’m married and have two beautiful daughters in Sophia (7) and Camila (1). I’m nothing without my wife and kids, my wife is my best friend and been together since high school, always been the support of mine, drives me to be better and I would literally be nothing without her because it’s all about family and what I preach to my kids. My wife takes over and she is the head coach of the house. My daughters’ come to practice, always see me as a family man, we have dinners’ on Thursday as a team and my girls’ are always there. They are the greatest support, greatest teammates and greatest thing I have ever had in my life.”

Now in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Tuero is busy preparing for the upcoming 2020 season and stays in communication with the team. Vital to the success of the program has been the youth football/recreation club run by Pat Glover and injury prevention with FASST in Lyndhurst and physical therapy with Edge Pro in Paramus.

“Control what you can control is my message to the kids, they are working out and I’m getting the stuff to them online,” said Tuero. “They are sending me videos of them working and are doing it. We are all in this together and if they need someone to talk to, call me because they all have ups and downs and don’t know what’s going on and are nervous. It’s tough but we are going to get through it. Spring/Summer is where you win your championships and the weight room is the biggest part of the season hands down.”

“Working with FASST, our speed training guys who work out our kids and keep them in shape and we work closely with Edge Pro in Paramus keeping our guys healthy and have physical therapy with them three times a week and a huge part of the process. Every Saturday after a game we have physical therapy with them.”

“Pat Glover is a vital resource and is awesome and very involved in both program. He wants to do anything to help with the pipeline and president of the league. It’s super important having those kids learning what we’re doing in high school so by the time they get to us they are past initial stage of teaching that is huge. I have my kids down at their games and practices supporting them and vice versa their kids are at our practices every day and it’s awesome.”

“My 2020 message to the team is Let’s Go Baby, you have work to do and get back at it. There is no let down, we lost seniors but I don’t want to hear what guys can’t do but how you are going to make them do it or coaching them how to do it. It’s depressing at first, all of a sudden you get jolted and excited. Here we go again, planning for next season, getting ready and can’t wait to do it again and coach it up. A dream come true and so happy to be a part of it and can’t wait to go on another run.”

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Sunil Sunder Raj

Since July of 2014 Sunil Sunder Raj has been with In The Zone. Sunil has experience covering minor league baseball, high school and college sports. A beat writer for the Rockland Boulders for six years, Ramapo College men’s basketball for four years, NJIT men’s basketball and Seton Hall women’s basketball. Now focusing on feature articles about athletes, coaches and sports media professionals. A graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.
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