By Matt Williams Staff writer
The Salem News
---- — Peabody High head football coach Scott Wlasuk resigned that position yesterday and offensive assistant Matt O’Brien will take the reins on an interim basis for the remainder of the season.
Wlasuk was in the midst of his fifth season as head coach and steps down days after the Tanners fell to 0-5 with a 49-0 loss to Beverly.
Peabody has been outscored 224-41 in losses to Salem, Danvers, Haverhill, Gloucester and Beverly in 2012.
Yesterday afternoon, Wlasuk met with high school principal Ed Sapienza and athletic director Phil Sheridan and determined that the time had come to step away.
“I think it was time to move on,” Wlasuk said last night. “I think it was a mutual thing and I think it’s a situation where maybe some change in philosophy will be a good thing.”
Sheridan met with the football team to explain the situation yesterday. O’Brien, a 1992 Peabody High grad who has been on Wlasuk’s staff for several years, will coach his first game when the Tanners host Revere on Friday.
“Scott resigned for personal reasons and we accepted that,” Sheridan said.
Wlasuk was named head coach prior to the 2008 season and took over a program that had gone 2-19 in 2006-07. He won four games his first season, following by a 3-8 mark in 2009, a 5-6 campaign in 2010 and a 5-5 mark last year.
Overall, Wlasuk compiled a 17-31 record in 41/2 seasons as head coach. He had been a longtime assistant under former coach Ed Nizwantowski and left the program after Nizwantowski was let go in 2005. The Peabody police lieutenant was then an assistant during Dick Woodbury’s single season as head coach in 2007.
All together, Wlasuk spent close to 25 years on the Peabody High sidelines.
“When I spoke with the kids I expressed my appreciation for Scott’s efforts. I reminded them that this is a guy who bleeds Peabody blue,” said Sheridan. “This is a sad day, but we’ll move on. I told the kids they need to keep working together, and like any high school football team, to play for the guy beside them.”
Just ten months ago, Wlasuk was voted NEC/CAL Tier 1 Coach of the Year and it appeared the program had turned a corner with back-to-back five win seasons, by far its most success post-Nizwantowski.
The 2012 team didn’t return a player that had scored a varsity point, however, and had a roster with 36 sophomores, 16 juniors and 10 seniors. Speculation about Wlasuk’s future began to spread after a 61-12 loss to Danvers in week two and came to a head after the Beverly setback.
“I take full responsibility for everything that’s happened,” said Wlasuk. “Within the past two weeks there’s been a lot of outside pressure and this was the time.
“I don’t want people to think I bailed on the kids or that I’m being disloyal. That wasn’t the case.”
Sheridan anticipated that the rest of the coaching staff will remain to work with O’Brien, and felt that under the circumstances continuity was for the best.
“We were thinking quickly on our feet and the best fit was to go with someone who had been with the staff rather than someone from the outside,” the athletic director said.
Peabody has five games left on its schedule, beginning with Revere this Friday followed by Masconomet (Oct. 19), Lynn English (Oct. 26), Lynn Classical (Nov. 9) and Saugus (Thanksgiving).
“I watch these kids out on the practice field and they’re working hard,” said Sheridan. “They’re going to keep playing, keep learning and they’re going to try to do the best they can.”
Peabody had just two head coaches (Arthur Adamopoulos and Nizwantowski) between 1961 and 2004 and rose to become one of the state’s strongest football powers.
As a program, the Tanners never truly shook off the sting of Nizwantowski’s controversial departure. The team immediately had its first losing season in 13 years in head coach Paul Uva’s first year, going 4-6 in 2005. Uva stepped down following a 1-9 2006 and when Wlasuk replaced Woodbury in ‘08, he was the program’s fourth head coach in a five year period.
“I went through a lot of coaching changes throughout my high school football career but coach Scott was the one I was closest to. He valued character and the well being of his players,” said Kevin Bettencourt, one of the captains of Wlasuk’s first team in 2008.
“My senior year of football was one the best times of my life and I would like to think that our group of seniors that was with him for his first year set a foundation.”
A number of Wlasuk’s former players were saddened to learn that he had stepped down last night.
“Coach Scott brought so much passion not just for football, but for Peabody football,” said Mike Garrity, a captain of the 2010 squad. “He always said that becoming head coach of Peabody was the second best thing that happened in his life, besides his kids being born.”
“I really thought things were headed in the right direction and its kind of a shame,” said George Haraktsis, another ‘10 captain. “He cared about us as players and if he made mistakes, he always tried to learn from them.”
Wlasuk was particularly proud of the 2011 team, which lost a number of players to an off-field incident last September. The seniors on that club rallied to win their final two games, including a comeback victory over Lynn Classical in which Wlasuk’s oldest son Sean kicked the winning field goal in the fourth quarter.
“Coach really cared about all aspects of the program and he went head over heels for his players on and off the field,” said Jason Hiou, an ‘11 captain. “It’s unfortunate that the direction is what it is, but no one person can be blamed for that. Coach did everything he could to better the program.”
“He taught me a lot about character,” added Nick Hiou, an ‘08 captain now playing at UMass Dartmouth. “He’s the kind of guy that would give you the shirt off his back in a heart beat.”
Though he never made predictions regarding wins and losses, only saying his team would work and play hard, Wlasuk knew that his record and the 0-5 start played a role in the end of his tenure as head coach.
“I know I didn’t have a winning record and people will point to that,” said Wlasuk. “I gave everything I had to put the program back in place.”
Asked to reflect on some of his best times as head coach, Wlasuk pointed to the relationships he built with this players and his peers in the coaching community.
“I really haven’t had a lot of time to think about it,” said Wlasuk. “We had a great game where we lost in overtime to Swampscott, I felt like that game kind of put us back on the map. We had some great battles with Salem. I’m very proud of the NEC sportsmanship awards we received.”
Sheridan said he anticipates a full search for a permanent head coach this winter, “We’ll post it and do the best we can to find someone who will be here for the long term and that can steady this ship.”
Sheridan was both hopeful that the Tanners could rally around O’Brien and thankful for Wlasuk’s years of dedication.
“Right or wrong, you want good people as your coaches and Scott is good people,” said Sheridan. “Matt is good people too and right now we’re moving forward with Matt.”