Five years ago, Weehawken High School was in need of a girls' tennis coach. Ferullo's name came up as a possible candidate. There was only one problem.
"My wife had just taught me how to play tennis about a month before the high school season was about to open," Ferullo said. "I had maybe two or three lessons, but then the job sort of fell into me."
Even though his knowledge in the sport was limited, Ferullo, the 31-year-old son of First Ward Councilman and Deputy Mayor Lou Ferullo, took the job.
Ferullo had no idea what he was in store for.
After all, the Weehawken tennis team didn't have a home court to play on. Every single match was played on the road. Because of transportation woes, the team was sent to matches in taxi cabs, traveling to points in northern Bergen County like Cresskill and Park Ridge in a cab.
Plus, the team had no site to have regular practice, having to rely upon the tennis courts at UBS-PaineWebber for occasional use.
"The availability is not always there," Ferullo said. "If we're lucky, we get on that court once, perhaps twice a week. Taking the cabs to the road matches is tough, but it's the way it has to be. We're making the best of it."
No home court, no place to practice, no transportation. It seems like the odds were stacked against the young ladies at Weehawken High, even before the first service.
"To their credit, those girls never complain about it," Ferullo said. "But they're the Road Warriors. They go out on the road and compete every match."
There's also another obstacle surrounding the Weehawken girls' tennis team. They haven't won a match. Ever. Not in Ferullo's tenure. Five years without a win.
"We've come awfully close a couple of times," Ferullo said. "But we play all Bergen County teams that have good programs, like Leonia [a perennial Group I state contender], Cresskill, Hasbrouck Heights, Palisades Park, Park Ridge. They're all great teams."
Added Ferullo, "It kills me that we've come so close to a win. A couple of times, I thought we had it. I want to get the win for them more than anything. We've definitely taken our share of lumps over the years."
That's not all!
What also hurts the Indians is that the girls really don't have any tennis experience before they enter high school. They're learning while competing against players who have spent summers at country clubs with private tennis coaches. It's almost too unbalanced to believe.
"Some of our girls are picking up the racquet for the first time when they come out for the team," Ferullo said.
The 2002 tennis season ended two weeks ago and Ferullo went to the Bergen County Scholastic League coaches' meeting, in order to select the All-League team. Of course, he didn't think he had any individuals worthy of All-BCSL honors. But he attended the meeting anyway as a courtesy to the other coaches.
When the BCSL coaches decided to vote for the league's Coach of the Year, there was a surprising nominee - namely a coach without a single victory.
"When they put my name up, I thought they were kidding me," Ferullo said. "I told them that I didn't win a match. But they still said that I deserved the Coach of the Year. I didn't know what to say. How can someone win Coach of the Year without ever winning a single game? I was amazed. I was speechless. I guess the coaches understood what our girls go through just to play. I was very appreciative."
Sure enough, Ferullo was chosen as the BCSL National Coach of the Year.
Weehawken athletic director Richard Terpak applauded the selection of Ferullo.
"The girls have to survive under the most difficult situations," Terpak said. "It was touch-or-go whether we were going to have a team, but Rob has got us going. I think the coaches are giving them credit for their perseverance."
Ferullo, who teaches special education at Memorial High School in West New York, said that he accepted the award with mixed emotions.
"It was a great honor, but I wish I could share it with the girls," Ferullo said. "They're the ones battling the tough odds, not me."