BY ANDREW GARDA
Next week the Montclair High School football team heads into the “dead period,” a mandatory week off for high school football teams across the state, before getting back to the business of preparing for a challenging 2021 season.
They’ll be doing that preparation without their head football coach, though.
In a press release from the team sent to the media Tuesday afternoon, John Fiore announced that he will be taking a temporary leave of absence from his coaching duties to begin the 2021 season, citing an ongoing family matter.
Associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator Pete Ramiccio will take over as interim head coach.
Fiore will continue in his role as a physical education teacher at MHS.
“My kids need me at home right now,” Fiore said in the press release. “Something happened that I can’t share, that you wouldn’t want to happen to anyone’s family. It’s really important for me to be home and take care of my family and kids at this point.”
He informed his team during Tuesday’s workout, according to the memo, and told them he remains committed to them and the coaching staff and will be available to them during the school day even if he cannot be involved in the daily practices and game preparation.
Since Fiore took over the program in 2010 the Mounties have a 93-31 record, have appeared in seven NJSIAA sectional championships, winning in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2017, while also having unbeaten seasons in 2012, 2013 and 2017.
According to the press release, the MHS program has also “sent approximately 165 student-athletes to play college football, including more than four dozen on scholarship at the FBS and FCS levels.”
The fourth-longest-tenured head coach in school history, he is also second all-time in school history for both win percentage (.750) and state titles (4), behind only Montclair legend Clary Anderson.
While he has big shoes to fill, Ramiccio has the experience to step in for however long Fiore needs him to. Ramiccio, who has been co-defensive coordinator with Jamie Bittner since 2014, is an English teacher at Montclair’s Glenfield Middle School.
Prior to joining Fiore’s staff as a defensive backs coach, Ramiccio was an undergraduate assistant with Syracuse University’s football program, before coaching tight ends and wide receivers at Iona College and then moving to high school football as a defensive coordinator at Fair Lawn High School.
He was named associate head coach in 2016, and has seen some interest by other schools for head coaching positions.
“It’s a little surreal,” Ramiccio said. “We were hoping to find a way to keep coach Fiore around, but it’s an honor for me to be a part of the lineage of coaches here, even if it’s just for a year. What it comes down to is that I love football, I love working with our kids, and we’re going to move forward. Our players and our coaches did such a great job last year working through COVID and playing a full season. And I think we’ve got an opportunity to do some real good things this year.”
While the offensive side of the ball often garners the attention due to dynamic playmakers like Danny Webb, Tarrin Earle or Charles Murphy, Ramiccio and Bittner’s defense has been an anchor for MHS teams, producing talent such as Willie Matthews and, more recently, Jordan Williams.
Preseason is set to start on Aug. 9, before the Mounties play in scrimmages on Aug. 17, 21 and 26.
The regular season opener will take place the weekend of Sept. 3-4 against longtime rival East Orange.