By Chris Hunn
EAST HAVEN >> With a mix of passion and intellect, first-year East Haven football coach Anthony Lucibello discusses the Xs and Os of a successful offense he ran at North Branford.
He talks about serving as an assistant at a handful of winning programs from around the state. He’s been around the likes of Chip Kelly and Dana Holgorsen, and studied Urban Meyer’s coaching concepts.
Laying on a desk a few feet away from him, is Nick Saban’s book titled, “How Good Do You Want to Be?”
“I’ve read it like 10 times probably,” Lucibello says.
It doesn’t take long to figure out that the Easties are in good hands.
With Lucibello leading the way, East Haven seems to be heading in the right direction.
The t-shirt he’s wearing tells the story. On the back is a construction sign with the words “Under Construction” inside. Below reads, “Building Champions.”
Yes, there is work to be done. A lot of it. The Easties went 1-9 last year. They have had nine straight losing seasons and held the state’s longest losing streak (36 games) from 2007-09.
The 43-year-old Lucibello appears to be the type of coach to turn things around.
“He’s a tireless worker,” said Scott Benoit, who had Lucibello as an assistant at North Branford, Guilford and Hamden. “He’s extremely passionate about what he does and he’s a tremendous football mind. He’s a teacher of fundamentals. That’s the biggest thing he’ll do for those kids.”
Hired just three months ago, Lucibello, a colon cancer survivor, wasted no time setting the foundation. He started a relationship with the town’s youth program, which will be running the same offense as the high school program in order to build some continuity.
He turned a donated trailer into a coaches’ office. The coaches were set up in the shower of the locker room before. Also, the players and coaches joined together a few Saturdays to revamp the locker rooms and build team unity. They painted, added a flat-screen television, a “bumping” sound system as the kids call it, and video games. It’s got the feel of a college locker room.
“‘This is your home,’ I told them,” Lucibello said. “‘You’re going to be in this place a lot. Let’s make this your home.’”
On the field, the Easties are improving.
Lucibello says their collective football IQ is that of a third-grader. It’s not their fault, he says, that’s just how it’s been. But the players have been receptive and are working hard. They are practicing at a much faster pace than they were used to, and adapting to Lucibello’s spread option and 3-3 stack. The seniors have ran eight different offenses over the previous three seasons.
“It’s definitely been different,” captain Mike DeMarco said. “I think it almost seemed like a complete overhaul in certain ways. The main thing is he wants us to have faith in him, to buy into his system. After that, and we were settled in, it was just moving forward. We trust him and we think it’s going to take off.”
Lucibello has coached at Derby, North Haven, North Branford, New Britain, Hyde, Guilford, Hamden, Southington and Cheshire. All have been successful. He’s been a part of three state championships and coached in five state finals.
Lucibello says he’s learned how to run a program, a 12th-month program which he says is critical in football.
This is his first head coaching position and a program much different than the type he is used to.
“It’s a Southern Connecticut Conference school,” he said. “I’m looking at it as an opportunity to put my name to a program and turn it around with great guys coaching with me and great kids playing for me.”
Last week, East Haven crushed St. Bernard 60-6 in a scrimmage. One player pointed out to Lucibello that the Easties scored more points in that game than they did all of last season.
How good will they be this year?
“I don’t know,” answers Lucibello before the question is completed. “It depends on how things go and how healthy we are.”
One thing is for sure, East Haven is making strides and should have a promising future with Lucibello leading the way.