Elyria Catholic was looking for an experienced wrestling coach. Vinnie Curiale was looking for a job. The stars aligned and the Panthers hired the former Lakewood and Avon Lake coach Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s a real nice fit,” EC athletic director Bob Thayer said. “We were going through the process and we got a lot of resumes in, but there were a lot of guys looking for a teaching position and we just didn’t have any teaching jobs available this year.
“We’re in a tough situation right now. The numbers are very low, and we felt we needed an experienced coach with somewhat of a name. Vinnie fits that bill.”
Thayer has first-hand experience with Curiale’s work ethic because Thayer served as Curiale’s athletic director for seven years at Lakewood.
“We’ve always had a good working relationship,” Curiale said. “Lakewood kind of just let me go, fired me (after the state tournament in March) … whatever you want to call it. The new AD came in there and didn’t like the way I ran things and wanted it his way. After 15 years of being a head coach, I think I’ve got that pretty much under control.”
Thayer was forced to take over the Panthers program in the middle of last season when Tony Filiaggi unexpectedly resigned. When the AD heard Curiale was no longer with the Rangers, he called the coach and gauged his interest in the EC job.
“We talked and we worked it out,” Curiale said. “Lorain County is very kid friendly. The papers do a great job, and the all-star meet that they have … it really showcases the kids. I know a lot of the coaches from being around awhile and being in the same leagues, so it’s not going to be a very hard transition for us.”
Curiale has had success at Lakewood and with the Shoremen, coaching many kids to the Division I podiums in Columbus. Last season, he improved Lakewood’s standing in the West Shore Conference by four spots, had seven wrestlers finish with All-WSC honors and coached Yassir Abdelsalam to a district championship — “It was the first time we had one since 1988,” he said — and to the state tournament.
“Our wrestling (resume) speaks for itself,” Curiale said. “I think our biggest challenge is going to be building some numbers and getting some kids to come our way.
“We’re going to try and get into some of the Catholic schools around there — St. Mary’s and St. Jude’s — and try to get some kind of youth program going … maybe a junior high club team at some point that feeds right into Elyria Catholic. It’ll take some time, but hopefully we can make that happen.”
It definitely will have a different feel for Curiale, as his former programs were at public schools and in Division I, while Elyria Catholic is a private school and in Division III.
“For me it’s not a big deal, wrestling is just wrestling,” he said. “You have to beat good kids wherever you’re at. I’m sure there are plenty of good kids in D-III, just like there are in D-I and D-II. To me it’s just about coaching kids and getting them to the ultimate goals of being a state qualifier, state placer, state champ.”
He’ll also have to deal with a tumultuous conference situation during his first couple of seasons on the job.
“The rumor is that the WSC is breaking up after next year,” Curiale said. “But there’s supposed to be a new conference forming with four Parma schools — the three public and Holy Name — and then Bay, Rocky River and EC. That’s kind of the same conference we’re in now. I think that’ll be a good wrestling conference.”
Curiale will also have the benefit of the coaching staff he’s employed for the bulk of his career. His main assistant will be Dennis Duffy, and Dennis’ son Patrick Duffy — a two-time state-placer at Lakewood who recently has run the middle school program — will join the EC varsity staff. Also expected to help with the Panthers will be former St. Ignatius coach Dan Stefancin — a national champion at John Carroll — former North Ridgeville coach Ed “Buzz” Haller and former Avon Lake standout wrestler Kevin Brunner.
“We have a pretty decent staff,” Curiale said. “We’ll have some quality guys that’ll be in and out of the room besides the normal guys.”
Two other guys that will continue to help the program are former Panthers stars Josh Taylor and Tom Reighley. While Thayer took over the paperwork duties of a head coach, it was Taylor and Reighley who got on the mats with the EC wrestlers and continued to work on technique and endurance.
“The EC wrestling program means an awful lot to both of those guys,” Thayer said. “The work they did last year really helped save the program. We certainly want to keep them involved and there’ll always be a place in the wrestling room for those two.”