MADISON >> One last time, Steve Filippone was at the helm of the Hand football team on another cold night at the Surf Club Wednesday.
After 27 seasons, 38 years all told with the Tigers’ program, Filippone will wake up Thursday morning with no more games to coach, no practices to set up for and conduct for next season. His coaching career ended with a 44-0 victory over Guilford, the Tigers’ 10th straight in the Thanksgiving series, giving Hand a 38-5-1 lead in the series.
“I’ll miss the contact with the kids and the coaches,” Filippone said. “I’ll miss the competition. I live to compete and I will miss it. I’ve got to find another way to get it out, but I will find another way to get it out.”
Filippone finishes his career with a 223-82-5 and seven state championships, including back-to-back Class L state titles in 2011 and 2012.
He is just the second coach in program history. Larry Ciotti was the first, coaching from the start in 1971 through the 1988 season. Filippone has been the head man ever since.
Until Wednesday night.
“My last game was against Guilford as well in 1988 and it was a very emotional day for me as it is for Steve,” Ciotti said. “It’s the end of another era. Steve has done a magnificent job here. He’s carried on from what I started. I’m so proud of his efforts in what he has done and the impact he has made in the community.”
And Filippone has been much more than a noteworthy successor.
“The ability for me to be a caretaker for Larry’s program, I mean that, I’m not being humble when I say that,” Filippone said. “I have always believed that I was a caretaker for what he built. The guy who builds the house is responsible for it, he can lend it to other people. That’s what he did. He trusted me to take care of it. I hope I took care of it for him.”
— Joe Morelli (@nhrJoeMorelli) November 24, 2016
At halftime, Ciotti, now an advisor for the Yale University football team, where he served as an assistant coach after his time at Hand, had the bleachers at the Surf Club named in his honor.
By the time that ceremony happened, Hand already had a 29-0 lead. Brian Casagrande had a pair of touchdown runs and Jack Parker sacked Guilford quarterback Jack Strand in the end zone. Hand quarterback Brett Bilcheck finished with a game-high 119 yards on just seven carries, including a 69-yard touchdown run to start the third quarter.
All told, Filippone’s teams went to the state finals 11 times. Filippone, 60, told his players and their parents before the season started he would step down at season’s end.
At 2-8, it wasn’t the season Filippone, or others, may have envisioned for his final season of dealing with the Southern Connecticut Conference Tier 1 heavyweights. The Tigers took two of them, Fairfield Prep and Xavier, to overtime before losing.
“I didn’t want them (players and parents) or anyone else to think that I am bailing because we didn’t have a good year,” Filippone said in October. “I absolutely knew that I wouldn’t be returning after this season when I told the kids. I gathered the seniors together and told them that this is their last year and that this is my last year.”
The Tigers will get some welcome relief next season when they drop down to Tier 2 in the SCC. The question is: who will replace Filippone?
“If the selection committee keeps it in the Hand family, it will continue, because they will have my support and Steve’s support and everyone else’s support,” Ciotti said. “I don’t see that being a problem.”
Hand athletic director Crag Semple said he wouldn’t accept Filippone’s letter of resignation until after the season.
“I was holding out hope that he may change his mind,” Semple said. “But he deserves to be retired from football. He’s done everything you can ever ask of him.”
Filippone’s replacement is a debate for another day. Wednesday night was about the man himself, a national coach of the year recipient (in 2014) who has plenty of friends in the game to stay connected to it if he chooses long after Wednesday’s finale.
Hand 44, Guilford 0
Guilford 0 0 0 0 — 0
Hand 7 22 15 0 — 44
H—Brian Casagrande 2 run (James Vagel kick)
H—Brian Casagrande 2 run (Vagel kick)
H—Nick Anderson 1 run (kick failed)
H—Chris Bartosic 5 run (Vagel kick)
H—Brett Bilcheck 69 run (Vagel kick)
H—Kevin Girardi 47 int ret (Connor Castaldo pass from Teg Cosgriff)
Team records: Hand 2-8; Guilford 3-7