WESTPORT — Things have been more then stable over the last two decades at Staples High School on Friday nights. As students and faculty came and went, there was also a single contact when it came to the Wreckers.
Marce Petroccio would be patrolling the sidelines during football season.
Since 1993, that has been the status quo.
But even the status quo has to change some time. Petroccio left Staples last week for what he has said would be the only job that could pull him away from the Wreckers — coaching at his own alma mater Trumbull High School.
Now that there has been some time to process the situation, Staples finds itself in an all too unfamiliar situation, searching for a new head football coach.
But while the administration looks to fill the void, some players are still processing the fact that Petroccio won’t be patrolling that sideline come next season.
“The kids took it hard,” longtime assistant coach Jack McFarland said. “The kids do all love Coach P. We told them ‘ you’re gonna have it all because of Coach P,’ and I think they all understood.”
After making the decision know last week during an after school team meeting, the news quickly swept through the ranks of players both old and new.
Staples senior Ben Pearl first met Petroccio as a middle schooler playing Westport PAL football, learning from one of the best during football camps.
It wouldn’t be long before Pearl, like many others before him, would don the Wreckers colors and take the field under Petroccio.
When he heard that Petroccio was stepping down there was only one thing that went through his mind, he said.
“The first thought was kind of shocked,” Pearl said. “Staples football, it’s synonymous with Coach P. The first thing that comes to mind is his face.”
Pearl said he played until Petroccio since his freshman season — a varsity call-up prior to the Thanksgiving game against Greenwich.
But he said his feelings were shared by those he spoke with as well.
“I think everyone was kind of shocked,” Pearl said. “No one had any idea. I can feel for the younger guys. He’s kind of a god to the younger kids.”
Although divinity was something that was out of the reach of Petroccio during his time at Staples, on the field, not much else was. During his 25 years, he won 210 games and three state championships. A tough act to follow for any coach that comes in next to fill the shoes of Petroccio.
But the next coach will have plenty to work with as both facilities and players are top notch thanks to Petroccio, McFarland said.
“They’re getting great kids,” he said.
While McFarland has been a close friend and longtime coach, the decision for the current staff to remain will be left to the person that comes into Staples, he said.
“Nobody’s looking to stay,” McFarland said. “That’ll be up to the new coach.”
Regardless of whether the current staff remains after Petroccio departs or not, the lasting foundation has been built through the respect and success that came to the program over the last two decades.
Despite first feeling shocked and confused at the decision, many players have reached out and spoken with Petroccio, McFarland said.
“They’ve all gone up to him,” he said. “He’s a mentor to all these kids. He’d only leave for one job. He’s been the heart and soul of Westport for 25 years. We’re gonna miss him.”
While the program will miss Petroccio, the reality is that the show must go on and the next coach will have to continue the tradition of Staples football.
“I’m excited to see who they bring in and what they do with the program,” Pearl said.
Petroccio leaving also means a brand new chapter for the program at Staples, but for many of the players that have played for him during those 25 years, there is one thing that will stay with them, Pearl said.
“There is no coach I’ve ever respected more than him,” he said. “The respect I have for him and the respect he commands from his players. He told us, ‘if I could have sons, it would be you 80 in this locker room.’”
ct.com; Twitter: @aronJohnson_