As you read this, the North Bergen Board of Education will have already appointed Czar Wiley, the 1996-97 Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Year, to be next North Bergen High School head football coach, replacing Jimmy Crane, who appointed just recently to replace the legendary Vince Ascolese.
Ascolese had the job for the last 39 years, including last season, when the Hall of Fame gridiron giant guided the Bruins to one last NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV state championship before heading off into the sunset. Ascolese retired after 50 years of coaching, the last 39 of which were spent in North Bergen. He led the Bruins to seven state championships and 14 county titles, putting North Bergen football on the national map.
Crane was brought in from Texas, of all places, in February. Crane was appointed head coach – not hired yet, Board of Education officials want to point out, because the official hiring for school personnel, such as coaches, does not take place until after the new town fiscal year budget starts on July 1.
However, Crane was definitely given the job as head coach in February. And last week, Crane was removed from his head coaching duties.
The Board of Education’s media specialists, Vision Media of Secaucus, sent out a press release – only after being informed by this reporter of the coaching change – saying Crane had resigned for personal reasons.
That is simply not true. Crane was dismissed from his position after only one month. He was hired as a history teacher in the high school March 1 and will remain on the payroll as a teacher until the end of the school year, but he will not return.
Someone within the Board of Education stated that Crane had resigned because of health reasons. Officials first claimed that it was Crane’s wife, then changed to Crane’s father.
However, if someone resigns for personal health reasons for a family member, then why is that person kept on the payroll until the end of the school year? That’s more than three months.
Crane, who has not returned at least five phone calls for this report, was told last week that his short tenure as coach was over, according to an informed source.
So what transpired to get Crane dismissed?
According to several reliable sources – all of whom who have requested anonymity – the following is what transpired over the last two and a half years.
In the fall of 2009, the powers that be in North Bergen, namely Mayor and Assistant Superintendent Nicholas Sacco and Superintendent of Schools Robert Dandorph, decided that a change had to be made with the head football coaching position, sources claim.
At the time, they decided that it was time to remove Ascolese from the position, try to force the longtime coach into retirement, and promote Mike Guasconi, the principal at Kennedy School in North Bergen and a former assistant coach under Ascolese and former head coach at Weehawken High School. Both Sacco and Dandorph apparently told Guasconi of the plans to promote him as the new head coach after that season, which was a dismal and uncharacteristic 3-7 campaign, Ascolese’s worst as the Bruins’ head coach.
There were also worries that Ascolese wasn’t able to discipline the players properly, that there were several instances of players getting preferential treatment in terms of discipline, and that angered the higher ups.
Those plans were starting to take place until Ascolese got wind of it, sources say.
According to these sources, Ascolese made a deal with the higher echelon to finish out coaching his grandson, Vin, for two years. Then he would retire as both football coach and assistant superintendent. It was also learned at the time that Ascolese was owed a considerable amount of money in terms of sick time and time accrued.
The supposed deal was agreed upon by all parties. Ascolese would coach for his grandson’s tenure in high school, then retire, with Guasconi taking over afterwards. It all seemed pretty clean and clear. It also seemed to work out well, considering that Ascolese guided the Bruins to the state championship in miraculous fashion and his grandson was the Hudson Reporter Defensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player. A dream scenario all around.
But things didn’t work out as planned.
Before the 2011 season had ended, Guasconi apparently was already working on putting together a coaching staff for the year to come. The alleged appointments did not go over well with some of the would-be coaches and the disgruntled coaches took their grievances to Sacco, sources say.
So the deal that Guasconi apparently agreed upon more than two years ago was scrapped. Guasconi had to go through the interview process like the other seven candidates for the position, meeting with a search committee that consisted of North Bergen athletic director Jerry Maietta and consultants Frank Gargiulo (a Township Council member and the Superintendent for the Hudson County Schools of Technology) and Tom Roberts. Both Gargiulo and Roberts were former high school football coaches.
After the interview process, the committee recommended going outside of the district. They hired Crane, who had moved to the area. He had been a long-time assistant coach at a respectable Texas high school called The Woodlands School. Unlike some of the other candidates, which included Guasconi and former Hudson Catholic head coach and athletic director Rob Stern, Crane did not have any prior head coaching experience, just strictly as an assistant.
Crane’s hiring was considered a huge stretch and came as a complete shock to everyone. More than likely, it was quite a shock to Guasconi, who was reportedly promised the position years ago.
Once Crane was brought in, it didn’t take long for people to realize that the hiring was a mistake.
Crane, sources say, was not willing to budge on certain things, like the placement of assistant coaches. He wanted to do things his own way and that totally angered the remaining coaches who had worked under Ascolese. They didn’t appreciate Crane’s demands for off-season coaching meetings. They all thought life with Crane would remain status quo, like it was under Ascolese’s regime. It wasn’t the case at all.
Several of the assistants, including Sacco’s son, Nick Jr., sources say, voiced their displeasure over Crane’s demands. Crane was warned about the problems that were brewing, but the warnings fell on deaf ears. When – according to multiple sources – the assistant coaches all offered their resignations as a sign of a mutiny against the new head coach, the administration decided to dismiss Crane and bring in someone from the North Bergen football family, namely Czar Wiley.
Wiley, the son of embattled North Bergen Public Works Director Jim Wiley, also does not have head coaching experience. Currently the assistant principal at Robert Fulton School, Wiley, a three-sport standout during his high school days at North Bergen, has served as an assistant coach at North Bergen under Ascolese, as well as Memorial in West New York and Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood.
Sources say Wiley’s coaching staff will include Nick Sacco Jr. as well as other notable North Bergen products. Wiley was slated to be named the “interim head coach” at an emergency Board of Education meeting this week, but again, the tag is just a technicality. He will begin to receive his coaching stipend after the 2012-13 budget is put into place July 1.
So the idea that Jimmy Crane resigned, with an official letter or not, is completely bogus. Crane was removed. As famed radio broadcaster Paul Harvey once stated many years ago, “Now you have the rest of the story.”
One thing is for sure: The North Bergen powers that be who decided to bring an outsider like Crane in now have egg all over their collective faces. It’s an embarrassment to a storied football program and one that cannot receive any positive spin, no matter how hard anyone tries. It was a complete and utter disaster that now gets thrown in the lap of young Czar Wiley.
If he can be as good of a coach as he was an athlete, then there should be no problems. At the very least, North Bergen is getting one of their own again, not an outsider from deep in the heart of Texas. This time, they went for the homegrown.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read his blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.