Brian O’Connor has taught his football players to fight and try their best on the field. Now, they are fighting for more than a victory on the field.
They're trying to save O'Connor's job.
Several of O’Connor’s players are trying to make sure the 13-year Wayne Valley head coach keeps his job.
“We want to make sure we play for someone we trust,” said Kevin Hughes, a junior wide receiver who has played for O’Connor for two years. “We want to play for coach O’Connor.”
O’Connor appears to be all but out as football coach. The district began advertising for O’Connor’s replacement Jan. 6.
Several of his players attended a Board of Education meeting last month and have tried to get officials to reconsider their decision. They hold O’Connor in high regard.
“He’s always asking all the players, whether they’re starters or not, how they’re doing in their classes,” Hughes said. “He has taken an active interest in our lives.”
No one knows this better than Joey DeFlippis. His father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in April 2012 and died in June 2013.
“He was one of the first 10 people to call me after my father died and was one of the first people to show up at my father’s wake,” said DeFlippis, a senior linebacker. “It goes to show how great he really is. He reached out to my mom and I during the holidays after my dad died. He wanted to make sure we were doing okay. He doesn’t produce football teams. He produces families.”
After Valley beat Hills for the first time in nearly 20 years in 2012 O'Connor cut up the game ball and gave a piece to each player. He praised the entire team for their collective effort.
The players said that O’Connor keeps his kids accountable for their actions both on and off the field.
“You never hear about major problems with players at our school,” DeFlippis said. “You never hear about players from our team in the news.”
Although O’Connor has beaten cross-town powerhouse Wayne Hills and been to a sectional final the last few years haven’t been too great. Valley went 4-6 in 2013 and 2012 and 3-7 in 2011. O’Connor now works with the players in the weight room three days a week.
O’Connor had a meeting with then district Athletic Director Mike Miello before Christmas. He thought he was going to keep his job, NorthJersey.com reported, but was informed that he would not be retained after Miello and Superintendent Ray Gonzalez had a meeting. Brad Smith is now the interim district athletic director.
O’Connor told the website that while his team’s recent records might not be that impressive what he does for the community and the school is.
“The job is about building character and preaching academics,” O’Connor told the website.
The players said that politics and a few subpar seasons might be to blame for
O’Connor being out.
“If we went 5-5 there wouldn’t be any discussion about a coaching change,” Hughes said.