Obituary: Ernie DeFilippi / Sports editor at the Press who could recognize talent

May 30, 1938 - April 2, 2014

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Ernie DeFilippi, the former sports editor at The Pittsburgh Press who helped launch the careers of some of the region's top sports journalists, died Tuesday due to complications from a stroke. He was 75 and resided in Treasure Island, Fla.

Mr. DeFilippi served as sports editor of the Press in the late 1970s and early 1980s. His colleagues lauded him for his ability to recognize talent, his skills as a copy editor and for streamlining operations within the sports department.

Mr. DeFilippi hired Dave Molinari, who was inducted into the writer's wing of the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009. He also encouraged Bob Smizik to become a columnist and oversaw the development of many other young writers at the Press, including Tom McMillan, now the vice president for communications for the Penguins, and Mike DeCourcy, the college basketball columnist for the Sporting News who was inducted into the United States Basketball Writers Hall of Fame in 2011.

"He was the best newspaperman I've ever been around," said Mr. Molinari, who continues to cover the Penguins for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He was an exceptional editor in the copy editor sense. He was an old-fashioned newspaperman. He was very good at what he did."

Mr. Molinari was writing news at the McKeesport Daily News when Mr. DeFilippi hired him in January 1980. After a short stint on the sports desk as a copy editor, Mr. Molinari was assigned by Mr. DeFilippi to cover the Penguins in 1983. This is the 30th consecutive season he has covered the Penguins for the Press and the Post-Gazette.

"That's the way Ernie was," recalled sports writer Gerry Dulac, who also was hired away from the McKeesport Daily News by Mr. DeFilippi and now covers the Steelers and golf for the Post-Gazette. "He believed in giving opportunities to people he believed in."

Mr. McMillan worked for the Press for only a year before moving on to the Post-Gazette and eventually the Penguins, but he said that year helped to shape his career.

"Without a guy like Ernie being in your corner you don't get those breaks. He was the perfect guy to bring you along. He was one of those editors that didn't nag you. He trusted you to do the job."

Mr. DeCourcy was thinking of a career change when Mr. DeFilippi hired him.

"In many ways he helped save my career at a point when I really could have gone a lot of directions," said Mr. DeCourcy, who is covering his 25th NCAA basketball Final Four this weekend in Dallas.

"Ernie would rank among the half-dozen people in my career that I consider most responsible for whatever success I've been fortunate enough to enjoy," he said.

Mr. DeFilippi had similar influences on other staffers he oversaw. Mr. Smizik, who worked a columnist for the Press and Post-Gazette and continues to blog at post-gazette.com, was the Pitt beat reporter when Mr. DeFillippi pushed for him to become a columnist. It did not happen until years later, but Mr. Smizik said Mr. DeFilippi's encouragement inspired him.

Terry Shields, an assistant sports editor at the Post-Gazette, worked closely with Mr. DeFilippi on the sports desk at the Press. Mr. Shields described him as an expert in layout and packaging stories and in planning.

"The thing Ernie did best was streamline the department," he said. "Everyone had a good handle on what their job was and what they had to do."

After the Press ceased operations in 1992, Mr. DeFilippi worked part time at the Post-Gazette. He also owned and operated the Oklahoma Inn in Vandergrift, which he sold before relocating to Florida in 1999.

Mr. DeFilippi is survived by a daughter, Roxane, and son, James; sisters Margaret Sipolino and Dolores Nasser; and three grandchildren.

A Mass will be celebrated at 1 p.m. next Saturday at St. Gertrude Catholic Church in Vandergrift. A reception will follow at Anna's Cucina Rustica in West Vandergrift.


Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.


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