The first part of this story on football coach Rich Mongelluzzo mainly covered his background and some thoughts on the Donora football program.
Rich Mongelluzzo played for the Dragons under coaches Jimmy Russell and John “Moon” Clark, two mentors who played the Good Cop, Bad Cop roles to perfection.
“Russell was the tough guy and Clark was my favorite coach, the kind of guy who would give kids a pat on the back,” Mongelluzzo said. “When I coached with Rudy Andabaker, we had learned the style of Russell and Clark and we took on the same roles. I was the one to talk to the kids, stay calm.”
At one time or another Mongelluzzo coached just about every position on the field including both the offensive and defensive lines. During games Andabaker ran the offense while Mongelluzzo, considered to be his first assistant, handled the defense.
“I’ve even worked with kickers — I had my nose in on everything,” he said.
The fact that the Donora High School football program enjoyed a potent offense in the late 1960s certainly pleased players such as Bernie Galiffa and his favorite target, future major league star Ken Griffey, including a superb air attack which Mongelluzzo critiqued.
“Eighty, eighty-five percent of our passing game was Galiffa to Griffey,” he said. “Galiffa not only put the ball near him — he wasn’t always perfect — and Kenny would go up and get it.”
He added that there were times when Andabaker had so much confidence in Galiffa he would let him call his own plays.
“That helps players grow and gain football knowledge,” Mongelluzzo said. “Sometimes when we couldn’t get a play in from the sidelines Rudy would just wave his hand to Bernie, signaling to go ahead and call a play.”
At times, said Mongelluzzo, other teams who had heavily scouted Donora knew what strategies the Dragons employed as they went into games against them (such as Donora’s tendency to throw on first downs), “but the thing is, they had to stop us. We were passing the ball coming out of their tunnel. I mean, it was amazing how many times we threw the ball. It was a natural thing for us to do, just throw the ball.”
However, he added that Donora’s running game was outstanding, as explosive as their passing game, so most teams “didn’t know if we were going to run or throw. That’s why our running game was just as effective as our passing game.”
As for a comparison between high school standouts Galiffa and Montana, Mongelluzzo noted, “I don’t think Bernie was quite in the class of Joe Montana, but he was a helluva quarterback. Bernie wasn’t as big or as strong as Montana, but Bernie fit well at West Virginia University.”
Galiffa, a second-team All-State selection, was a delight to coach, and Mongelluzzo credits at least some of his success to “where he came from. He came from Donora, and he came from the Galiffa family, a family that had a heritage as far as football goes.”
That heritage included, among other things, a brother Ron who was a quarterback at Donora High (before Bernie took his job from him) and at Geneva College, another brother Art who handled quarterback duties at Tennessee, and an uncle, Arnold “Pope” Galiffa who made All-State in high school, was an All-American quarterback at West Point (1949) where he also earned 11 letters, second most in school history, and who also played professional football.
“I coached Bernie when he was in Midget League before I graduated from college, and his brothers, too,” Mongelluzzo said. “Then I went up to Cal State, and I just happened to fall into the right place and I got hired in Donora as a teacher and a coach — and who comes along but Bernie Galiffa.”
Once when Mongelluzzo watched Galiffa play under center for the Mountaineers of legendary coach Bobby Bowden, he asked him about his number one target there, the fleet footed Danny Buggs, who would later spend some time in the NFL.
“Bernie said, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s good, but Coach, I want to tell you something — this stadium would be jammed packed if Kenny Griffey was with us. We would put on a show down here if Kenny was here.’”
Always appreciative of good coaching, Mongelluzzo paid tribute to his Western Pennsylvania peers, tipping his cap to the quality high school coaches of the Pittsburgh vicinity by saying he’d stack them up against coaches from any other state.
“Absolutely,” he said. “No question about it. Take a look at the quarterbacks who came from Western Pennsylvania.”
He rattled off the obvious names of greats such as Dan Marino, Joe Namath, Jim Kelly, George Blanda, Johnny Unitas, and Montana — all Hall of Famers who grew up within a radius of about 60 miles from Pittsburgh.
“When you start listing them and looking at them, it’s amazing how many great ones came from this part of the country, this little niche of Western Pennsylvania,” Mongelluzzo said.
One such star was a place kicker/punter Mongelluzzo worked with at Bethel Park, Tom Skladany, a three-time All-American at Ohio State (1974, ’75, ’76). He also made the NFL Pro Bowl squad in 1981, the season his 74-yard punt for his Detroit Lions ranked third in the league.
Mongelluzzo still resides in Donora and lives with his wife Kathy. He left the field of education in 1985.
One last thing about Rich Mongelluzzo: to this day there are scads of adults who, at least in part, owe their driving skills to this man — for years he taught Driver’s Ed at Donora High. Clearly then, he was equally comfortable with youngsters under his care who were driving a car down the highway or driving a team down the field on route to a touchdown.