By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
For the past 6 years, Frank Antuono could have been mistaken for Claude Rains, protaganist of the 1933 film, “The Invisible Man.”
“People don’t know me,” Antuono admitted.
However, he quickly added, “But I’ve been in Mercer County the last six years ... and they’ll get to know me.”
After weeks of speculation, Antuono was named Hickory High’s head football coach during Monday night’s board meeting, replacing Jim Bell, who resigned following a 5-year tenure. Hickory ended 4-5 in ’06.
Antuono was hired 6-3 with Raymond Slovesko, Victor J. Ellenberger, Jane Levine Matusick, Laurie Ann Biblis, Dr. Morren J. Greenburg and Timothy Kizak voting for him and Matthew J. DeJulia, Gene Martuccio and Diane Skinner voting against.
“I think he was the best man,” Ellenberger said, adding that he has known Antuono for a long time.
The other finalist, Mike Donato, would have done a “nice” job, but Antuono is the man for the program, he said.
Martuccio said he felt Donato had the better experience.
“He’s taken programs and turned them around and that’s what we need,” Martuccio said.
Martuccio said he has no doubt that Antuono, who will be paid $5,499, is a “good person” and he wishes the new coach the best.
Following a 6-year stint as Neshannock High’s head coach, Antuono joined Lou Falconi’s Farrell High staff 6 years ago, serving as offensive coordinator.
“It’s been a long time,” Antuono admitted. “I just thank God I’m going to have this opportunity. When I heard about (his appointment), I cried. I’m thrilled to death! I’m excited to be going to a tremendous school district like Hermitage! I’m happy for the opportunity to coach the kids in Hermitage, and I’m going to give them everything I have, my heart and soul, energy and enthusiasm.
“I’ve had my (playbook, schemes, drills, etc.) packed away for a lot of years,” Antuono continued. “We used Louie’s system at Farrell; now I can get my system back out and put that to use. ... But I learned a lot from Louie,” Antuono admitted. “He was just tremendous to me, and I love him to death. He treated me like gold for six seasons.”
The 40-year-old Antuono is a New Castle High product and former Red Hurricanes’ grid standout. He matriculated at Westminster College where he was a 3-year starting offensive guard, earned 2nd-team All-American honors, and as a senior co-captined the undefeated 1988 NAIA Division II championship Titans team quarterbacked by former Sharon High standout Joe Micchia.
According to The New Castle News’ web site, Antuono’s aggregate 6-year ledger leading the Lancers was 17-43. In January, 2000 his head- coaching position was opened, and he was not rehired.
Antuono characterized himself as a “wing-T guy.
“Wing-T, and we’ll mix some other things in there. ... I’ve been very fortunate to be around a lot of tremendous people, and one of those people is (New Castle High and University of Miami product and former Mercer High head coach) Frank Makarevich. He taught me just about everything I know about the wing-T. I’m thankful he’s been in my life” Antuono said. “But I believe in that offense and hope we can get the kids to believe in it as well. We’re going to sell it to the kids. Defensively, I want to take a look at the kids first, then I’ll make my decision at that point,” Antuono added regarding a base formation.
Antuono said he is still piecing together a coaching staff, but related, “I’ve talked to a lot of people in Mercer County.” And he also eagerly anticipates working with Hickory’s players, which could number 80-plus (grades 9-12) — approximately double what he worked with at Neshannock.
Simply put, Antuono’s ambition is to out-work opponents.
“My goal right now is going to work. I’m a worker and I believe in developing a solid work-ethic,” Antuono related. “So we’re going to work like crazy.
“All eyes are going to be on us,” Antuono admitted. “This is a heavy-pressure job, so we’ll work as hard as we can and prepare for every single game as hard as we can.
“Obviously, each season your goal is to win the District 10 championship,” continued Antuono. “But my main goal is to get to know these kids and meet with their parents. The greatest avenue to a kid is through his parents.”
Antuono and his wife Roni and their children Frankie, 9 (in June), Anna, 7, and Joey, 5, reside in Neshannock Township.
“My kids are young and my wife is a tremendous backer and she’s given me the green light, 100 percent. We’re definitely a ‘football family,’ and we’re excited,” Antuono admitted.
“I’m a big believer in family, energy and enthusiasm,” he emphasized. “I want these kids, some day, to become better husbands and fathers by learning about some of those things as they are passing through our program. I think if we take care of those things, everything else will fall into place.
“I’m looking forward to this challenge,” Antuono admitted, later adding, “I just want to get in there and see what we can do, get a staff together and get going. ... I’m going to give my whole heart and soul to the kids from Hermitage. They’ll get to know me. I’m a hands-on guy. I’ll get right down in there and sweat with them, be right in there with those guys.
“I want them to believe in each other and the (coaching) staff. My first meeting,” Antuono related, “I’ll tell them that they’ve got to believe in each other, grab on and hold each other tight, because it’s going to be some ride.”
Herald Staff Writer Joe Pinchot contributed to this story.
By Ed Farrell