George DeLeone remembered for impact he made on lives of players, coaches

George DeLeone, a New Haven native whose career as a college and pro football coach spanned more than a half century, died Tuesday after a year’s-long bout with cancer. He was 73.

A graduate of Fairfield Prep and the University of Connecticut, DeLeone began his career as an assistant and, later, head coach at Southern Connecticut State. His last stop was as an assistant under Matt Rhule at Baylor, which confirmed the news of his death.

DeLeone will best be remembered for his prowess as an offensive line coach, which included stops with the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns, and as the man who brought the freeze-option to Syracuse University, which enjoyed nearly two decades of success under head coaches Dick MacPherson and Paul Pasqualoni in the 1980s and ‘90s.

For a majority of his career, DeLeone was attached to the hip of Pasqualoni, whose own distinguished career began when DeLeone invited him to serve as an assistant at Southern Connecticut State in 1976 and continued at Syracuse.

Syracuse won 146 games in 19 seasons with DeLeone on staff — the first six with Dick MacPherson and 12 of the final 13 years as Pasqualoni’s right-hand man.

To Pasqualoni, DeLeone’s impact on the game was profound and touched generations of players and coaches.

“I’ve played for a Hall of Fame coach in college in (Penn State’s) Joe Paterno, I worked for a Hall of Fame coach in my first job in the NFL (in Dallas with Bill Parcells), and I’ll say this without exaggeration: George DeLeone was the gold standard,” Pasqualoni said Wednesday.

“George was all about the service of teaching — teaching kids and helping other coaches get better. For me, he will always be the gold standard of the teaching and coaching business and how to treat people. It was never about himself. There was nobody more modest or (who) displayed greater humility. I don’t know just how you replace a guy like George DeLeone.”

Pasqualoni was joined by scores of coaches and former players from across the country in honoring DeLeone’s life.

Many of the schools DeLeone coached — including Temple, UConn and SCSU — released statements or tributes. The New Jersey High School Football Coaches Association, whose recruiting relationship with DeLeone goes back to when he became an assistant at Rutgers in 1980, said DeLeone lived to the highest standards in every facet of his life. “His legacy will continue to impact our profession for generations to come.”

In Connecticut, DeLeone was remembered by scores of high school and college coaches as a brilliant football mind who gave back inordinate amounts of his time and knowledge to anyone who wanted to learn.

“Next to my father and Larry Ciotti, George DeLeone is the single most important man in my life,” said former Hand coach Steve Filippone, who played for DeLeone at SCSU. “To say I loved him would be a gross understatement. I revered him.”

Filippone said DeLeone personally called Hand’s principal and lobbied for him to get the school’s head coaching job in 1989. Filippone went on to win 13 state championships at the school.

“You could talk to a hundred other coaches and they’d say the same thing,” said longtime friend and current SCSU assistant Lenny Bonn, who also played for DeLeone at SCSU.

“That man had such respect for everybody. When he was with you, you were the most important person on his agenda that day. Nobody cared about people more and if he met you once, he’d always remember you. That man’s brain was wired different.”

Bespectacled and disheveled, DeLeone conveyed the look of a professor of the game and backed it with exhausting, but illuminating, all-night film sessions that have now become legend.

Those sessions would even spill over onto local Italian restaurants, particularly Sally’s Apizza on Wooster St. in New Haven, where DeLeone would diagram plays on napkins. Pasqualoni, whose family farm provided tomatoes and other ingredients, said owners Sally and Flo Consiglio would open early for whenever DeLeone’s coaching entourage came to town. “We’d have one hell of a time,” Pasqualoni said.

Both Trumbull football coach Marce Petroccio and Filippone told tales of weekends as visiting high school coaches at Syracuse. After practices, DeLeone would hold court, taking questions and diagramming plays into the night. “I can’t even begin (to) tell you all of the insights I still carry to this day,” said Petroccio, who brought a version of DeLeone’s option to Staples, where he won three state championships.

“I would put him up against anyone else,” Bonn said of DeLeone. “In the state of Connecticut, anywhere... Is there anybody else that touched as many people in the football world? I’d be hard-pressed (to) come up with another man than Coach DeLeone.”

DeLeone graduated from UConn in 1970 with a degree in physical education and earned a master’s degree in physical education from Southern Connecticut in 1971.

DeLeone, who was born in New Haven on May 9, 1948, grew up in Westville and went to St. Aedan’s parochial before attending Fairfield Prep, where he played on the offensive line. He began his coaching career at Southern Connecticut in 1970 as an offensive line coach, helping the Owls to the Eastern Football Conference championship. He was promoted to head coach in 1976 when, at 28 he was the youngest college football coach in the country, Pasqualoni said. DeLeone left Southern after 1979 to become an assistant at Rutgers.

When Pasqualoni was laid off at Cheshire due to budget cuts, DeLeone brought him on as an assistant at Southern Connecticut in 1976, starting a longtime friendship and working relationship. DeLeone worked with Pasqualoni at both Syracuse and UConn.

DeLeone spent 19 years at Syracuse from 1985 to 2004, leaving for one year to coach with fellow SCSU coaching alumnus Kevin Gilbride with the San Diego Chargers in the NFL. Later, he coached three years under fellow New Haven native Tony Sparano with the Miami Dolphins.

It was at Syracuse where DeLeone made his mark. During his time with Syracuse, he helped guide the Orange to 12 bowl games (8-3-1 record). While working with the offensive line at Syracuse, DeLeone coached five players who were drafted to the NFL, and as an offensive coordinator, five players who were named All-American. Syracuse won three Big East titles (1996, 1998, 2004).

DeLeone helped develop Syracuse’s offense into one of the most explosive in college football. Syracuse earned eight bowl bids and had quarterbacks who ranked among the national leaders in passing every year, including Marvin Graves, Don McPherson, and Todd Philcox.

“Dick MacPherson had the vision to implement the freeze option at Syracuse, but he was also smart enough to know George was the guy to get it done,” Pasqualoni said. “In all those years at Syracuse, and when you look back at that program the culture was really something. …George was as much responsible for that success as anybody.

“He had such passion for preparation and the amount of hours and the detail he put into it... I can’t tell you how many nights where we’d leave the offices and scraping the snow and ice off our cars in the middle of the night.”

DeLeone came to Baylor after spending the 2016 season on Rhule’s staff at Temple, where he served as the run game coordinator and offensive line coach. He was also Temple’s offensive coordinator in 2006 and 2007.

“This guy was the real deal,” Filippone said. “You talk to anybody in country about offensive line play, Jim McNally and George DeLeone are the guys they’ll throw out there. That’s a hell of a legacy.”

Filippone said DeLeone wanted to return to coaching, even if at the high school level, but that his declining health over the last year prevented him from giving it 100 percent. “And he didn’t want to give anything if he couldn’t give his all,” Filippone said.

“He was a hard man, but the thing about football is it’s a hard game and it teaches you hard lessons and makes you a better person and nobody did it better than George,” Bonn said. “He was a fighter and he taught everybody who played for him to ‘shut up and do you job.’”

And his peers and protégés loved him for it.

“He loved all of us, and I couldn’t love him back enough for what he did for me and my brother and all the guys I played with and all of other kids he coached,” Filippone said.

“He helped us become men. He never — never — abandoned us. Never. He always answered my calls and, if he was doing it for me, he must have been on (the) phone 24-7.”; @SPBowley