HERMITAGE — As with many of his basketball coaching counterparts, “consumed” might best describe Rick Mancino. Perhaps that’s one reason he ended his Kennedy Catholic High career so successfully.
Mancino marks time by benchmarks, but not those in typical fashion — for example, wins or championship, rather, painful losses.
Friday, the Kennedy boys basketball coach who doubles as a social studies/safety education teacher at New Castle High admitted, “It’s just at this time I felt I needed a break,” so he announced his resignation.
The Golden Eagles ended 218-66 (76.7 percent) during Mancino’s 11-year tenure that began with the 2009-10 season. Included were four consecutive commonwealth crowns atop the PIAA pedestal — the last, 2019, in Class 6A.
Mancino enjoys another distinction. He played on the first (1985-86) of the program’s 10 state championship teams, scoring a game-high 25 points in a 55-44 win over Bristol at old Hersheypark Arena.
“Everything’s good (health-wise) ... I’m just tired,” the 51-year-old Mancino admitted. “These coaches that go for thirty, forty years, I give ‘em all the credit in the world. Anyone who doesn’t think that coaching isn’t twelve months a year, twenty-four hours a day. ... I mean, you’re always coaching, whether you’re with your team or not. When your players are not with you, they’re still representing your program. If something good — or bad — happens, you hear about it right away.
“When you coach, you’re either in it or you’re not. And if you’re gonna do it right, you have to be all-in. It’s not just one or two players. You’re coaching a team sport, you have a lot of players, and every one of them are equal, and every one of them deserves your time,” Mancino continued. “It’s a grind, but I don’t want to make it sound negative. I mean, I wouldn’t trade the last eleven years for anything. But coaching’s a lot of time.”
While focusing on the task at hand, Mancino managed to leave the details to others.
“You know what’s funny?” he asked through a chuckle, “I never kept track of my wins or losses or how many years I’d been at Kennedy. I forgot.” But the losses — few and far between though they had become during the last five seasons, Mancino admitted, “That’s how I counted time.”
This past season, the injury-riddled Golden Eagles ended 13-10 and relinquished their D-10 title to Erie, snapping a five-year reign (including four straight in single-A). Overall, KC’s proud program has captured 27 district crowns.
“I think we did it right,” Mancino said. “I think the kids who played in our program, I think they’re happy that they played in our program. And that’s the main part. These last few years, we have kids with four state championships, three, two ... I mean, some kids never get a state championship, and we have some kids who were fortunate to have three or four, and some of them got to play with some of the best players that ever played in — for sure, Mercer County — and all of western Pennsylvania.
“And,” he emphasized, “we had a couple players, I think, that’ll go down as some of the (best) all-time players in the state of Pennsylvania.”
That would include current West Virginia University standout Oscar Tshiebwe and Duquesne University’s Maceo Austin, as well as Tshiebwe’s predecessor at both Kennedy and WVU, Sagaba Konate.
Mancino added, “One thing we did at Kennedy, we loaded up our schedule. Some of the teams that came to our gym, some of the places we went and played, it was just great; it was a different type of basketball than I think people were used to seeing around here. A lot of people might disagree, but I thought our teams these last couple years were just on a different level, and it was special.”
In spite of Mancino’s demeanor of intensity on the bench, it was not to be confused with self-absorption or arrogance. He specifically cited all of his assistant coaches, relating, “I was very fortunate. I think we had the best coaching staff over the years. It changed a little bit, but I think it stayed great the whole time. I think my assistant coaches were a huge reason why we were successful. One thing I did — just as well as any coach, if not better — I let my coaches coach. I never wanted a ‘yes’ person sitting next to me. My coaches had a voice, and I let them coach. Many times they’d call plays, changed things, set up game plans. They coached. There are a lot of head coaches that want to control (their assistants); I was never like that. I wanted my coaches to coach, and they did.”
What’s interesting is that none of this would have occurred for Mancino had it not been for his niece’s wisdom. Chuckling at the recollection, he related, “When I first got hired ... then it hit me that I got hired at Kennedy, and I just kind of shut down, thinking, ‘I can’t do this.’ I was going to resign even after I’d accepted it. But my little niece (Emily) was like, 12 at the time, she was lecturing me, how I had to get organized, this and that, and kind’ve convinced me to stay with it. I was on the way to Mr. (Pete) Iacino’s house to tell him I didn’t think I could do it, and I stopped at my sister’s house, and (Emily) talked me into it, I guess.
“Looking back now, it was a good thing I stopped (at her home). It was good. I was able to coach four of my nephews. That was nice, it was cool.”
While he will continue teaching at New Castle High and operating his driver’s education business, Mancino said he has not “retired,” explaining, “I’m not saying I’m never gonna coach again; I don’t ever want to say I’m not gonna coach again. It’s just at this time I felt I just needed a break.”
Ed Farrell is assistant sports editor at the Sharon Herald.