For Masuk, the second time was the charm.
A year after failing to court him for its championship-caliber football program, Masuk has successfully lured Weston’s Joe Lato back to Monroe.
Lato was announced as Masuk’s football coach Tuesday. A Newtown graduate, Lato has coached Weston since 2006 and took the Trojans to their second state playoff berth in school history in 2012.
“Last year it just didn’t seem to make a lot of sense,” said Lato, who returns to Monroe since he spent time there as an assistant under John Murphy from 2000-05. “This year, it makes a lot more sense. The opportunity’s was there to coach a program at a higher level. I needed to take it.”
A year ago, Lato was a candidate for the job that ultimately went to Ridgefield assistant Dave Brennan, who coached Masuk to a 7-4 record during a 2013 season that was rife with inner turmoil and complaints from parents. Brennan’s contract was not renewed.
Masuk athletic director John DeGennaro said Lato beat four candidates up for the job. The coach will be introduced to the Masuk football players at school Wednedsay or Thursday. Lato will remain a high school gym teacher at Weston.
“It just fits. Everything fits,” Lato said of his return. “It’s a lot of things. especially the familiarity. I didn’t realize I had such good roots here and made so many good connections here. I know what the feeling’s like to coach here and what the sport means to the community. It’s a great opportunity to make a difference here and be a fixture in the kids’ lives.”
Lato was an all-state linebacker and running back at Newtown under Bob Zito when the the Nighthawks won their last state championships in 1990 and 1992. He attended Nichols College and then served 10 years as an assistant at Newtown and, later, Murphy’s staff at Masuk.
“We’re very excited and I’m excited for our players,” DeGennaro said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen Joe coach as member of own staff and as a coach at Weston. He has impressive knowledge of the game and is just as impressive with the way he reacts with his players and gets the most out of them. He’s done such a great job at Weston.
“He ‘s also a great teacher. He’s a great teacher who happens to be a football coach as well, also a great coach on life.”
Lato was hired away from Masuk to Weston in 2006. He was 35-49 as head coach of the Trojans. Weston went from 0-10 to a winning team within four seasons.
Weston had three straight winning seasons from 2010-2012. In 2012, the Trojans qualified for their first state playoff in 23 years. They reached the Class M semifinals before losing to Berlin.
He broke the news to his Weston players on Tuesday.
“It was tough,” Lato said. “I never want to do that again, especially to a bunch of kids who’ve worked so hard and everybody at Weston who did so much for the program as a community. They’re trying to do great things there — they’re talking about getting lights, we built a youth program together — it hurts to think about. But that’s part of life, I guess.”
Lato’s first order of business as Masuk’s new coach was to attend a party for the Monroe Lions 8th grade youth football program, which was celebrating its fifth-straight unbeaten season.
Many of those players will be a part of Lato’s first class next season.
“To see everybody coming out in the middle of February to celebrate football is pretty cool,” he said. “It’s great to see.”