In the interest of propelling the Hand football program into the future, Steve Filippone says he has resigned from his second stint as head coach.
Filippone, 64, coached Hand for 27 years and won seven state championships before retiring after the 2016 season. But when his replacement, Dave Mastroianni, abruptly resigned in February for personal reasons, Filippone agreed to return as head coach to bring immediate stability back to the program.
The COVID-19 pandemic began two weeks later and Filippone’s role was reduced to coaching a 7-on-7 and lineman skills outfit when the state canceled traditional tackle football season in September.
Throughout the year, Filippone began to see himself more as a caretaker. He decided a month ago that the program would be better served by a new coach in the post-COVID era.
“I put in my year. I did what I was asked to do,” Filippone said Tuesday, the day after announcing his resignation to his players and their families on a Zoom call. “I started talking to people that mattered to me about what would be the best thing to do. And the people I spoke with said I was right. Let (Hand) find somebody new. Why put the future off for another year? It wouldn’t make sense.”
Filippone estimated that only one player — Seth Sweitzer — would go into a 2021 season with any varsity experience. He figured it would be best that Hand’s incoming players get started with a new coach immediately.
“Let’s start the future now,” he said. “So I put my resignation in. They accepted it and now we’re in the process of finding someone who will be in the program for an extended period of time.”
Hand amassed a 223-82-5 record and won seven state championships in the 27 years Filippone guided the program from 1989-2016. His 223 wins makes him the 11th winningest high school football coach in Connecticut history.
Though he never got to coach an official game in this second stint, Filippone said he was proud to help his kids navigate through the pandemic’s challenges.
“The kids were fabulous, the families were fabulous,” Filippone said. “It was a very hard and difficult year. I made the commitment because I am invested in our program and in our student-athletes at Hand High School.”
Hand is coming off appearances in three-consecutive state championship games in all three years of Mastroianni’s tenure as head coach. The Tigers won back-to-back Class L titles in 2017 and 2018. They lost to St. Joseph in the 2019 Class L final.
Hand posted the job opening on Tuesday. Hand athletic director Craig Semple did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Filippone said he expects the school district is looking to find a long-term replacement who “is very stable, who has substantial experience as a high school coach and somebody who understands our tradition and the responsibilities associated with this job and continuing the excellence.”
“It’s going to take a special person to do that,” he added.
Filippone hopes to remain on the coaching staff as a position coach at least. “The year I spent back I realized this is a very special place,” he said. “If I’m going to coach anywhere, it’ll be at Hand now.”